Note: The Sheltering Tree, Flagler County’s only cold-weather shelter for the homeless, is in serious need of volunteers willing to be part of overnight teams at the shelter: Covid has made older, regular volunteers more hesitant to be part of those teams. To help, please call the Sheltering Tree at 437-3258, ext. 105 (voice mail is checked very regularly), or contribute directly here or by mailing contributions to The Sheltering Tree, P.O. Box 1219, Bunnell, FL 32110. See a list of needs here. Martin Collins, a Sheltering Tree board member, expressed “our thanks for all of our cold-weather shelter teams all our individual and group donors and all of our volunteers.”
It doesn’t feel like it now, on a balmy Christmas Eve, but freezing temperatures are expected the night of Christmas and the following night, when the Sheltering Tree’s cold-weather shelter for the homeless will open for its fourth and fifth nights of the year.
In reparation this morning, the Sheltering Tree’s Martin Collins and Ellen Kinkaid found themselves at Beachfront Grille at the south end of Flagler Beach, taking a donation of 20 Christmas meals for the homeless, part of Beachfront co-owner Jamie Bourdeau’s gift of 150 meals for the needy: he and his staff–Nuziatina Munafo and Rami Alexander–prepared another 130 meals that Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher and Suzie Johnston, a mayoral candidate this year (Provencher is not running again), collected to then distribute to families in town.
For Bourdeau, who’s co-owns Beachfront Grille with Dudley Shaw for six years, it’s a habit of the heart: he’s teamed up with Provencher to provide meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas every year for the past three years. When the Sheltering Tree asked for help, he didn’t hesitate.
“People asked us to, it was just that simple,” Bourdeau said. “We’ve got a great mayor and we’re going to miss her for sure. Martin has been a good friend for 12, 13 years now, he is with the Sheltering Tree, he asked us to, my staff stepped up and did all the work.”
“Jamie’s version of the story is way too modest,” Collins said. “He’s actually reaching out to so many different entities and he always responds positively. When we needed to increase our meals today he just immediately gave us another five. He’s just an extremely generous guy. I think the most appealing thing about this establishment is the personality that Jamie brings.” Collins added: “Prior to Thanksgiving Jamie approached us on behalf of his team and some of his customers and gave us turkey for Thanksgiving and collected a bunch of non-perishable food. We’ve already used some of that and will continue to use it on the cold weather nights. He really has become a kind of leading-edge of generosity in the business community.”
The cold-weather shelter had operated for a dozen years at First United Methodist Church in the heart of Bunnell, and this year moved into new accommodations at Church on the Rock off U.S. 1, where spaciousness allows for social distancing and modest aid of $1,000 a night from the county and three cities helps defray nightly costs. The shelter is rigorously organized, with teams taking care of hot dinners and hot breakfasts, and teams staying overnight with the homeless, along with security.
But because of Covid the Sheltering Tree, the non-profit that runs the shelter entirely with volunteers, has had a lot of difficulties lining up overnight volunteers: many of the Sheltering Tree’s customary volunteers are older, and many worry about their health. “We’re really, really low on overnighters,” Sue Bickings, who chairs the Sheltering Tree board, said. So the organization has put out the call for volunteers willing to be part of overnight teams. (The Christmas nights’ teams have been lined up, but any help is welcome.)Meanwhile, community help like Beachfront Grille’s defrays other costs and brings a little Christmas cheer to those who may have little going for them. “They do a great job,” Bourdeau said of the Sheltering Tree volunteers. “We don’t do anything, really, we just help provide it. They work hard every day, so does my staff, don’t get me wrong, but we have family and stuff to go home to. A lot of those people at the shelter, they don’t have the luxuries that we have or that we take for granted, anyway.”
The meals, valued at between $10 and $12 each (or $1,500 to $1,800 for just today’s batch), consist of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables (zucchini, squash), dinner roll, gravy and applesauce.
Johnston joined Provencher today to deliver meals in town, along with some 10 other volunteers. Volunteers were delivering 42 meals at the low-income Pine Creek Apartments for seniors off Leslie Street. Johnston and Provencher were delivering 125 meals at the trailer park in town and a couple of other houses, helping ou individual families. “We discovered one family that had five kids and no presents,” Provencher said, “so I called Nadine King the other day, of Christmas Come True, and said hey, can you help me. She let me come get a ton of gifts for this family.”
Everyone was to get a meal, a cupcake from Swillerbees, the specialty doughnut shop in Flagler Beach whose popularity seems to be on a perpetual sugar high, and a gift from the Flagler Beach Woman’s Club (towel sets, calendars, mugs, crossword puzzles and the like). Walmart also provided Provencher with ten $50-gift cards.
Provencher had previously teamed up with what used to be Feed Flagler, the community-wide effort to feed the needy at Thanksgiving. When that disappeared, some churches took up the slack, then Provencher stepped in to ensure that the effort was kept up in Flagler Beach at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It used to be about 55 meals at each holiday. “We’ve done like 125 for Christmas and Thanksgiving, so it’s doubled mostly because of Covid, mostly because seniors don;t want to leave their house,” Provencher said.
“They cannot leave their house,” Johnston said, “that’s what we really found out during Thanksgiving, we did Leslie Street. They would have been unable to have left their home if we didn’t deliver.” Even then, Beachfront grille was one request away from providing extra help: “We needed 37 more meals during Thanksgiving./ We ran back inside and said ‘we need 37 more,’ they just got into an assembly line, built them back out and we loaded them back out in the car. It was in 10 minutes, we had them.”
As for the restaurant, it appears that its generosity is getting repaid in the currency of of Corinthian verses: “We’ve been pretty lucky,” Bourdeau said of the Year of Covid. “We have great regulars, and as I said we have a great staff. The regulars are the key, and they’ve always supported us, and so we really haven’t had a dip in business. Quite honestly our sales have been up this year over last year.” As always, the restaurant will be open on Christmas (from 10 to 6), and already has 200 reservations. “So we’ll probably do close to 300 meals tomorrow with walk-ins.”