Author - Laura King
Volunteers are what make the Warming Station happen during the winter...hundreds of them in a ten week period. Folks to cook meals and serve them each night. Men and women prepared to stay awake all night long to ensure the safety and well being of our guests.
A few weekends ago I got the opportunity to stay overnight after we unexpectedly had some spots that needed filled. I have helped in overnight shelters before but I was deployed to disaster areas where mother nature had ravaged a communities. I knew that this was going to be a different experience for me and was excited to spend community time with those that I only get to have small infrequent conversations with.
My night to serve finally came and it was bitter cold...the wind was howling. I got to the Warming Station a little before 6pm and our friends were huddled everywhere waiting to check in. It was so cold that we opened early so that they could get out of the elements. The Station was quickly almost at capacity. Each guest signed in and checked their one or two bags and then headed over to the community room for dinner.
Dinner time was jam packed. Every seat was taken and many were standing. Volunteers were serving an amazing spread. Plates were heaped over and some were going back for seconds. It just so happened that it was family meeting night. A night where Spring comes to the Station...ok, let's be real she is up there a lot of nights. But certain nights are set aside to give any new information and go through light housekeeping details.
There were a lot of interesting questions being asked, some of it to colorful to write about and then there was prayer. After going through her list, Spring simply said "let's ask God to help us" and begin to pray. That tiny, packed room went quiet. Heads began to bow, weathered hands clasped together. As she finished, you heard some of their voices crack as the "amens" rang out. I will never forget those moments. Moments when Jesus showed up in a room full of voiceless, unseen people. People who are normally discarded had an audience with Jesus and it was beautiful.
Not long after a movie was put on and some pretty intense games of UNO ensued. I had the privilege of interviewing a handful of folks who wanted to tell their story. They wanted to give back in some way because they were so thankful for what the community was doing for them. I met people who had only been homeless a few weeks, some over a year. I met moms with children, young couples and senior citizens all with a story...all with hopes and dreams for their future,
It was 10:30pm and time for lights out. I cut the lights and my friend and I settled into our chairs to begin our watch over the room full of women and families. It wasn't long before the life song of snores rang out. We looked at each other and knew it was going to be a long night. I don't know if snoring is a prereq...but they all had it down pat. It was peaceful and warm as we put in our earbuds to make sure we stayed awake over the next several hours and also to drown out the snoring.
I watched the sun come up the next morning as I recounted the events of the evening before. Thankful that I gave up a night's sleep to see what God was doing first hand. Thankful to be a part of something so amazing going on in our city. Thankful to have a meaningful connection with the very people that we advocate for everyday. Now I know their names and their stories. Now more than ever before I know that they are just like me, with a past and families, hurts and victories.
I cannot unsee what I have seen or unhear what I have heard and with that knowledge comes responsibility. The call to give voice to the voiceless rings ever louder in my heart.