For 13 consecutive years, Congregation Beth Chaverim has partnered with Volunteers of America to assist with feeding and housing area homeless adults. Each year, the congregation participates in the Winter Sheltering Program for the week that includes Christmas. From Wednesday, Dec. 19 through Wednesday, Dec. 26, up to 70 homeless adults were provided a warm place to sleep, a hot breakfast and supper, and a bag lunch as they left each morning.
During the evening meal each night, congregants schmoozed with their guests and listened to plans that included finding housing and new jobs. One young man, who’s been there for the past three years, couldn’t wait to share that he’s starting school at Tidewater Community College. This year saw an increase in the number of women, including two who are pregnant. Several had become homeless as the result of an illness. As some new volunteers commented, any stereotypes they had were shattered. In actuality, the homeless could be friends, neighbors and co-workers who have suffered a variety of setbacks.
During the day of Christmas eve, a few elves from Beth Chaverim dropped off presents. Later that night, after a supper consisting of hearty beef stew, a tossed salad and garlic bread followed by homemade cookies and pie, Santa and Mrs. Claus distributed the gifts. Warm sweaters, socks, gloves, scarves, hats and candy canes, provided by Volunteers of America, were greatly appreciated. As a special treat this year, helping to serve the meal were Pastor Veronica Coleman of New Jerusalem Ministries and Rabbi Israel Zoberman. New Jerusalem Ministries now meets at Congregation Beth Chaverim, and Emmanuel Way of the Cross. Since last year, both churches have embraced the Winter Sheltering Program and their volunteers are a tremendous asset.
As the week ended, it was a bittersweet departure. The week always starts with a smile, when greeting familiar faces from previous years; but it’s sad at the same time. Standard greetings such as “Good to see you” sometimes slip out, but the reality is that they’re still homeless. The same goes as they leave the last morning. Hugs are exchanged, but expressions like “See you next year” imply another year of homelessness.
All totaled, 167 volunteers gave more than 900 hours of their time for the week. On the last night, guests presented Beth Chaverim with a beautiful, handmade thank you card signed by everyone expressing their gratitude for the hospitality.
Once the guests departed, Beth Chaverim was quickly returned to normal. The social hall was set for the upcoming Bat Mitzvah and leftovers were packed for Barrett House, a women’s shelter in Norfolk. The two refrigerator freezers loaned by Best Way Rent to Own were picked up and congregants returned to warm homes with well stocked pantries. The congregation will start planning for next year’s program, and fervently hopes for success in the quest for affordable housing and employment.
by Debbie Kleeger, social action chair