As I sat in Market Square having coffee and reading the paper last Sunday afternoon, I saw out of the bagel store window a group of teenagers holding multi-colored signs offering free blankets to anyone in need. After about a half-hour of standing in the falling snow with no takers for their blankets, the group packed up and moved on.
For the past few years I’ve been managing one of the city’s homeless shelters; each winter the shelter staff and I are overwhelmed by the generosity we experience around us. Good, caring people collecting and delivering to us, as well as the other shelters in the city and even to the folks staying in the streets, mountains of warm clothing, hats, gloves, scarves and blankets. At our shelter by Christmas we have received enough donated brand new items that we start to pack them away for the beginning of the following winter.
The calls keep coming well into March from folks wanting to host coat drives and collections of blankets, hand-made scarves, sleeping bags or afghans. By January I start trying to encourage callers to consider other ways they might help programs like ours — perhaps pooling their resources to help us pay our heating bill so we can continue to provide a warm place to sleep for the homeless.
When there is motivation for a group, especially a group of young people to work together to help others, it’s tragic to have them leave that experience feeling like what they tried to do was not needed or, even worse, not appreciated. I’m not sure if the teenagers I saw in Market Square called a shelter first to ask how they could be most helpful to the homeless on these cold winter nights, but I do hope that next winter they and the adults working with them make a few calls first so that they don’t end up putting their effort into a project that leaves them standing alone in the snow.
I think I can speak for most homeless program administrators and shelter residents when I say that hitting the “donate now” button on our websites helps us assure that the heat stays on, and that is preferable to a pile of extra blankets. Keep those generous energies flowing.
Northside Common Ministries
Pleasant Valley Homeless Men’s Shelter