‘We just do what we need to do and put this all in God’s hands’
Welcoming more than 170 guests who will stay 16 days and eat 3,750 meals might not seem, at first, to be the easiest way to spend a holiday season. But volunteers in the East San Gabriel Valley Coalition (ESGVC) have been hard at work planning for the upcoming winter season which kicks off their Winter Shelter program.
Coalition participants set up temporary homeless shelters on their church grounds in two-week intervals to not just feed, clothe and give the homeless a warm place to sleep at night, but also to remind them that they are not forgotten.
This year, Winter Shelter program host participants include several Catholic parishes — St. Christopher in West Covina, St. Dorothy in Glendora, St. Martha in Valinda and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Rowland Heights — as well as Glenkirk Presbyterian in Glendora, First Chinese Baptist in Walnut and St. Matthew United Methodist in Hacienda Heights. Through their united work, they will continuously house the homeless from Dec. 1 to March 15, 2014.
A number of other churches will provide volunteer support to the host churches. At St. Dorothy, for example, neighboring Catholic parishes Holy Name of Mary (San Dimas) and St. Louis de Marillac (Covina) as well as nearby Methodist, Baptist and Latter Day Saints churches, and local law enforcement agencies, are part of the process.
St. Dorothy parishioners have been preparing since June of this year to welcome the homeless during the Christmas holiday. It’s been a regular event at the parish for 13 years, and each experience has taught volunteers how best to organize the mammoth undertaking with flair, discipline, attention to detail and a sense of community.
At a recent meeting on a rainy weekday evening, volunteers gathered to go over their checklists, update logistics, finalize plans and make sure the operation will, once again, be smooth and flawless. With St. Dorothy parishioner Getty Modica taking the lead at the meeting, volunteers discussed each aspect of their temporary shelter:
—Where’s the best place to put the extra clothing collected?
—When do the buses arrive?
—What’s the proper way for law enforcement to greet the guests?
—Will the LifeTeen group be making lunches?
—How many utensils does my church need to be responsible for?
—Are the Scripture cards and posters ready?
The question of finding a Santa for Christmas brought about a lively discussion. “Is your church going to supply a Santa?” asked Modica. “Suit or person?” was the response that drew laughter.
In addition to the actual manpower present for the running of the shelter, many hands have already worked behind the scenes securing food by garnering donations from local restaurants and grocery stores, including Costco. The call was put out to find an organization that could supply bottled water.
“If anyone has an idea on ways we can have a company sponsor the water, let me know,” says Modica. “We still need to think about toys for Christmas and other entertainment that day along with care packages for them to take with them when they leave.”
With only one more meeting scheduled before the buses arrived at St. Dorothy, the committee members nonetheless were calm and cool as they discussed preparations. Deacon Phil Luevanos held a binder of all the different aspects of the shelter that is a guidebook for organization.
“We follow what we did the previous year, learn from our mistakes and refine for the next year,” he explained.
For Father Anh-Tuan Nguyen, who was just assigned as St. Dorothy’s pastor earlier this summer, this will be his first experience with the parish homeless shelter. He is looking forward to being among the people, both parishioners and guests.
“The one thing I have heard is how eager people are for this to happen,” he said. “They look forward to this every year. They want to be a part of it, get their feet wet and hands dirty in good work.”
Deacon Luevanos has witnessed many happy occurrences every year in the operation of the homeless shelter. Just as a need suddenly arises, a solution presents itself, often in the least expected of places.
“You just have to make sure you don’t get in God’s way,” he says. “We just do what we need to do and put this all in God’s hands. There are no coincidences, only God-incidences.”