It was the heat of summer. The hottest days last year in North Texas. The young stay-at-home mom was recently divorced, left with an empty bank account and a mountain of unpaid bills. Her home was foreclosed on, and she had no family. She wanted to work, but did not have anyone to keep her two baby girls - ages 3 and 18 months. A woman used to better circumstances, she was reduced to living in her car with her small children. She heard about Samaritan's Inn and decided to try to get in.
Unfortunately, the Inn is the only homeless shelter in Collin County (population 600,000). They remain at capacity all the time since the need is great, and the rooms are few. When spots become available, they are given away on a first come - first served basis. The young mom tried to get a bed for her and her babies. Day 1 - no luck. She sat on the park bench out front in the heat all day long, with the hot sun beating down on her babies, because she did not want to miss out on an opportunity to provide a meal and shelter for her babies. If she left, someone else might get the next available bed. At four, the shelter stopped accepting applicants, so she returned to her car. Day 2....Day 3....Day 4..... The cycle was repeated. She came early to make sure she was first in line. She was determined to provide a safe environment for her babies - No matter how long she had to wait in the hot Texas sun on a park bench. On the fifth day, a resident left and she got a room for her family.
I saw this woman and many others with similar stories today as I attended volunteer orientation at The Samaritan Inn in Mckinney, Texas. I was absolutely impressed by the facility and by their philosophy about how to help homeless people redeem their lives and start anew. I love how they attempt to restore dignity to these people who have lost everything. Some people are in the shelter as a direct result of foolish choices they have made. Others are in the shelter because sometimes life just sucks, and you have a rotten string of circumstances. Whatever the reason, the shelter works with them to find jobs, learn to budget their money, receive their GED (if needed), and get back on their feet.
The volunteer opportunities are almost unlimited - They depend on donations of toilet paper, dog food, diapers, ziplock bags, personal hygiene products, really anything you can imagine..... They need volunteers to help tutor adults for their GED, tutor children with their schoolwork, babysit babies while their moms look for a job, supervise the computer lab and assist residents with their online job searches, do filing and administrative work in the office, sort donations, restock supply closets, work at the thrift store, do yard work, paint, clean......
My favorite thing though, is the adopt an apartment program. When residents finally get a job, many of them cannot find an apartment to live in due to bad credit that resulted from their financial distress before they became homeless. The shelter owns Gateway Apartments. Residents are allowed to live in one of these for up to 18 months while they are restoring their credit and saving up enough cash for deposits, etc. Apartments are furnished by volunteers. Groups buy everything from towels, to kitchen wares, to furniture, to toys for the children. They decorate the apartment, then get the privilege of handing the key to the resident. But here's the best part - when the resident leaves, they keep it all. They now own all of the household goods that they need to start over. Then the apartments are adopted and furnished again.
I'll admit that I cried all the way back to Anna. I hurt so badly for the 40 children who are currently at the shelter. The row of baby chairs and the stacks of sippee cups in the dining hall broke my heart. However, I am excited that God showed me an opportunity to demonstrate love to people in need. I like that volunteering my time, or donating items to the shelter or the thrift store, can help to completely change a person's life. I am excited that God uses us to carry out his purposes in other's lives. I love that God lets us be involved as he redeems people's pasts and gives them new futures.