A Night at the Homeless Shelter: From the Eyes of a Volunteer
FlaglerLive | January 18, 2011
By Charlie Ericksen Jr.
Last week during the cold wave, I received a call from The Sheltering Tree, the cold weather shelter in Bunnell, asking me to come in early, as three members of the supper team had called in with the flu, and we’d be short staff for the evening. I agreed immediately.
While walking to the building—which doubles up as the main meeting room at the First United Methodist Church—a a car of modest design drove up to me, the driver rolled down his window and asked if I was part of the shelter. I told him I was. He said he had read a recent article in FlaglerLive and wanted to help out. He handed me a $100 bill and said: “Hope this helps a bit.” I asked his name, but he preferred to stay anonymous, and left after saying he “appreciated what Sheltering Tree was doing.”
- Flagler’s Cold-Weather Homeless Shelter, Calls for Your Help
- The Sheltering Tree’s Website
- The Sheltering Tree’s 2010 Year-End Report
- Donations may be dropped off at Bunnell’s First United Methodist Church during business hours, at 205 N. Pine Street. You may also call Lee Willman, who heads the shelter’s board at 386/597-2774 to find out more on how you can help. Here’s a printable version of the shelter’s needs.
I figured with that start, that the evening would go well. Next I came upon a few local “guests”—as we prefer to call those who have no home and need shelter—from the Flagler County area, who are there most days awaiting a meal and a place to sleep. The shelter opens automatically when night temperatures are forecast to hit 40 degrees or below. Once inside, we started to transform the meeting room into the meal room and bed area. All the locals took the cots from the arranged stacked formation (the room had been used by the church for a meeting that day) and placed them around the room. In most cases, the beds had a “Taken” sign on them from the previous night. The guest in charge of the beds, whose name is “D,” was celebrating his 30th birthday.
While this was going on, more volunteers arrived, and went to task. Spaghetti and meatballs were on the menu for the night, along with bread, green beans, salad, cakes and desserts: all you can eat. We set the tables up, signed in the locals, and awaited the bus from Daytona Beach, which was to have 16 guests on it, half the occupancy limit of the shelter. Those guests arrived at about 5:45 p.m: 12 men and four women, one of them pregnant. For three of the arrivals, it was a first-time visit. All were hungry and eager for a good night’s sleep. As soon as everyone found their bed, they started to get in line to eat.As is the custom, one of the regular volunteers gives a rousing welcome and explains the rules of the shelter, and then asks if anyone wants to say a blessing. That evening a young man who was about 12 years old, the grandson of two volunteers, stood up, and spoke for a minute, and received well deserved applause. Thirty-six guests, including a few locals, who come just for the evening meal (no one is ever refused), then enjoyed a well balanced dinner. Many returned for seconds and thirds. We sang Happy Birthday to “D.”
Some of the more note worthy guests, were “D”—not the birthday “D”—who was a construction worker in Palm Coast . Apparently, earlier this week, he fell off a staging at work and broke some ribs. Since he is a recovering addict, he can take no pills to relieve the pain. He was in a lot of pain. One of the Daytona guests was awaiting Race Week so he could see all the cars coming to town. It was his wish to be able some day to go to a race and sit and watch it. A couple with their 3 children stopped by for a meal, as they were told of the shelter. They were homeless and hungry.
Cleanup followed, and since the dishwasher is broken, all dishes were washed by hand. While cleanup was continuing, those guests who needed clothing were allowed to go to the storage and display room where all donated clothing and shoes are awaiting them. Socks and coats were once again the biggest draw, followed by pants and shoes.
Most activities then start to slow down, with some guests already on their beds, worn out or asleep. One guest inserts a DVD into the player (“The Rock”). Some watch. Some sleep. The supper volunteers depart. It’s lights out for all at 10 p.m. two new night staff volunteers stay with the guests throughout the night and get everyone up and ready in the morning with a h a healthy breakfast at 6, as the bus to Daytona returns there at 7 a.m. Another group of volunteers come in to prepare the meal.
As a volunteer, once you see the need and experience the group effort to help out, it’s a great feeling. There is no shelter for this evening as the temperatures are to be above 40 for the next three nights (though 30s are in the forecast for Saturday night). It won’t be much warmer: night temperatures will be in the 40s. And just where will these guests eat tonight?