Summer is coming again, and we need your help.

We’re coming up on the anniversary of the date that I first walked through the doors of The Love Wins Community Engagement Center, determined to keep it open if only by sheer will.  I showed up with a box of fried chicken, my co-worker, John, and 4 hours of sleep (for both of us), as we had just gotten off of work together at 4 a.m. the night before.  It had rained in sheets all night and the parking lot was flooded.  The floor just inside of the donation entrance was flooded.  Everyone was wet, hungry and miserable.

That morning, Alyssa from Raleigh Mennonite Church also came to volunteer, and we looked at each other and laughed.  Of course she was here, we have had a 2-decade long friendship and it made perfect sense that she would be called to the same place.  A couple of volunteers showed up from all the way in Chapel Hill to help us open the doors, make coffee, throw away the moldy bread and clean up the flooded floor.   We learned to open and run the center by literally opening and running the center.

Our early days were punctuated by me asking for things on Facebook; clean socks, clean clothes, coffee, sugar, peanut butter, trash bags, soap, shampoo, beans and rice, emergency band-aids.  Times were tough and it was spring, the time of year where all non-profits see a huge dip in funding.  Our first 4 months, I just look back on in wonder.  How did we make it work?  How did we survive?  We were all in crisis mode and I feel like I called in every single favor that I knew how to.

I commemorate this time in the center’s life because it was truly a time of resilience.  We had a place to be and whatever was in the building, which we had to discover, one piece at a time.  Hugh was there to be our guide, but he was going through this hard time too in a totally different way.  He felt betrayed, sad and depressed.  He wasn’t sure that the center could remain open.  He wasn’t sure if he could trust again.  We were relying on the kindness of friends and strangers to get us though, and one day at a time, we did it.

I don’t have the same connections as Hugh: He’s a reverend, he had 10 years to grow into this platform, in some circles he’s practically a celebrity. I have some BIG shoes to fill here and a totally different background.

I am proud to say that the connections that I have with the service industry and our LGBT community are solid and their support has been enthusiastic and unwavering.  People want the chance to give back, and when given the opportunity, show up big.

Over the last year, a lot has changed. While we’re working on half the budget and half the staff of the previous year, we’re packing in a lot of tangible help in a very short time period.  We have 4 hours a day to do the most good.  We make it the best 4 hours that we can.

We now have a nutrition program where we’re a partner agency through the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, so we can stretch every penny that we get to make sure that no one goes hungry.  We have a beautiful Really Free Closet that now looks like a very tiny store.  We have an actual Peer-Support Specialist during a time when the opioid epidemic is at an all-time high.  We’ve got a LOT of work to do in a short amount of time.

But as spring comes around again, I start to worry if we can make it until fall.

We have to make it, though.  Summer brings new problems. I’ve already given away my first bunch of sunblock to people who got sunburned this weekend.  Soon we’ll have bug bites, rashes, dehydration and a serious need for baby-wipes and deodorant.  The needs change with the seasons.  We’ll be making turkey salad instead of turkey soup because everyone will be so hot.  We’ll need hats, visors, sunglasses, shorts, t-shirts and tank tops.  We’ll need Gatorade and bottled water.  Summer is a different demon.

Real talk for a minute: We’ll also need operating fundsIt’s a long seven months until the season of giving again, but all of the bills remain.  Please help me broaden my circle.

If you would like us to come speak at your church or social group, please let me know.  Please share this blog post so people know that we are here and what we do.  If you would like to host a fundraiser, please email us.  I rely on my friends a lot.  We rely on our center’s friends a lot.  We rely on Hugh’s friends a lot.  Now we need to keep expanding the circle and inviting in new friends, especially with the rising numbers of homeless people in Wake County and our current lack of affordable housing.

Thank you all for supporting one of the most meaningful years of my life.  I feel lucky every single day to have truly meaningful work.  I feel lucky every time I get to speak in front of a group of people about homelessness, or when I get an opportunity to teach people about the cycles of poverty.

My ever supportive husband, Elliot, is so proud of this work and often has the opportunity to talk to people, one-on-one, in my absence about what we do at the center and how people can get involved.  My life has changed drastically in the past year, but it’s an amazing change.  Sacrifices were made, but everyone was supportive of those changes.

We’re changing peoples’ lives here, and, as Hugh says, “Sometimes this shit works.”

Actually, every time it works. Love Wins!

 

Putting the FUN in Fundraising

We’re kicking off spring with lots of fun to shake off the winter blues!  Join us on Saturday, May 19th from 11 am-2 pm for our annual Open House!  We’re having a cookout picnic, so feel free to bring something to throw on the grill or enjoy one of our home-cooked plates (suggested donation $9, but most importantly, everyone eats, as it should be).  Come tye dye your own Love Wins t-shirt, or have one of our talented artists create one for you!  If you would like a copy of the flyer to print for your favorite hang-out spot, click here for a downloadable PDF.

Do you love live music?  Saturday, April 28th at 8pm, Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey are hosting a benefit concert for Love Wins called “Rock Your Socks” at the Pour House here in Raleigh! They will be selling high quality socks made by Farm to Feet, and for every pair sold, they’re donating a pair to Love Wins! To listen to Rebekah Todd’s music, click here!   To purchase concert tickets, click here!

This month, our campaign is “April Showers”, and we’re collecting things that keep people dry.  Bring us your new or used umbrellas, new ponchos and new or gently used towels to help our folks navigate this spring weather.  More than keeping people dry, we’re also trying to help them keep their belongings dry as well.  Bring us your new or gently used tarps and tents to help our folks keep what they have safe and rain/mud free!

We’re enjoying this beautiful weather, and we’re looking forward to posting pictures from our community garden.  If you would like to come visit our garden, help us plant things or just have an extra tomato plant, please stop by and let us show you what we’ve planted!  Gardening is more than the simple act of planting, it’s good for our minds, our bodies, and especially good for our spirits.  We’re excited about all of the fresh vegetables this summer, so stop by and join us!

Emerging from the Shadows

I greet our friends with a warm smile and give many hugs within minutes of opening every day. We catch up on our evenings, weekends and joke while we pour our coffee. Some of our folks will play cards with friends while others prefer to keep to themselves and stay in the shadows. We see these faces, sitting in the dark, and allow them their space. The Community Engagement Center provides space for you to be you.

Every once in a while a face will come out of the shadows. Earlier this month, Tony emerged from the shadows and started taking care of the community kitchen. I smiled and joked with him about coming out of his shell and helping. He took pride in keeping the kitchen clean, asked how to make coffee, refilled supplies as needed and helped close the center every day for a week. The following Monday morning he asked when he was getting his volunteer name badge. I smiled and told him I’d be right back. I returned with his name badge. He wears it proudly and every day would ask what else he can do.

The following week our friend Tyler asked me what he could do to help out. I asked him to sort donations and help organize the clothing closet and food pantry. He followed me around as I handed out toiletries, pain meds and supplies. We got him a name badge and he shared volunteer keys with Thomas who has been volunteering for a month or so.

As volunteer coordinator, just one of my many roles, I realized we had more volunteers than keys. That was quickly remedied and I was happy to see the smiles on the “T-Trio” when each of them realized that their badge came with keys. I simply smiled and said “Thank you for helping, now get back to work!”.

As our day comes to a close we see many faces emerge from the shadows. More and more folks are washing dishes, checking bathrooms and organizing the clothing closet. Our smiles are bigger than ever and the laughter is real and uninhibited.

We are a big family called Love Wins Community Engagement Center. Come by and see us in action! If you’d like a tour or want to volunteer please email me at alyssa@lovewinscec.org and we can make that happen.

Family with Newborn Twins Needs our Help!

When Janelle* and Roger* were evacuated from Orlando during the storms, they were hoping that everything would be okay. They hoped that their rental house would be intact when they came home, so they headed to N.C., where Janelle’s sister lived with her boyfriend. Janelle, already very pregnant with twins, packed up their twin 6-year-olds, Alex* and Lucy*, as well as their 1-year-old son, Lee*, and headed to her sister’s house for “just a few days”.

“Just a few days” turned into “Just a few weeks”, as things took a turn for the worse. A tree had fallen on their rent house and destroyed it.  When “a few weeks” turned into “a few months”, Janelle’s sister’s relationship with her boyfriend fell apart, leaving both sisters to fend for themselves. Her sister found a roommate situation easily, but with 3 children and 2 on the way, Janelle and Roger had a harder time. The sudden relocation had left Roger with a job paying a fraction of what he was previously making, and things started to fall through the cracks.

They checked into the local mission, where men are not allowed to be on the same floor as women. They had to meet up outside of the mission for Roger to see and play with the kids. Janelle’s pregnancy was now so far along that she was supposed to be on bed rest, but with 3 young children and without her partner, she wasn’t able to follow the doctor’s orders. The rules of the mission are that people who stay there have to work there every day, but it was proving challenging for Janelle to do even the lightest housework, especially while watching over young children. Janelle gave birth while staying at the mission, and now has twin babies, a boy and a girl.

Roger got to be there for the birth, but then they were separated again. He started sleeping on the streets because it was easier for him to make his 5 a.m. time at the labor pool. Janelle struggled with post-partum recovery, unable to breastfeed because of lack of privacy and judgment from other residents, and all of the challenges that go with keeping up with her other 3 children while caring for newborns alone. She needed Roger’s help, and he wanted so badly to be there, but that was against the rules, so she struggled on without him, seeing him in moments when she could.

Roger had been coming to Love Wins for several months when one day, he showed up with a baby boy, 1 ½ years old, toddling around and chewing on a pancake. We met Lee, and had no idea that Roger had any children at all, let alone 5!

Roger showed us pictures of the new babies and we were excited to meet mom. Janelle arrived within the hour off of the local bus with two of the tiniest, cutest little bags of sugar we’ve had the pleasure of holding in a long time. Roger hadn’t told us about his family because he wasn’t sure that there was much we could do to help, and both parents were deathly afraid of having their children taken away while they were so vulnerable and doing everything they could.

We immediately called Family Promise, the only shelter option in Wake County that keeps entire families together. Our system isn’t really tailored to deal with active dads or, in other cases, families with teenaged boys. Typically, the women and children are separated from the father or older brother, and in this case, this family was about to fall through the cracks. Family Promise got them on their waiting list right there on the phone, and Janelle and Roger felt hope.

Janelle and Roger’s family still wasn’t safe, though.  Janelle had been told several times that she was “on thin ice” at the mission because she had been there for so long, and had been threatened that, if she was kicked out, CPS would be called immediately and all of the children removed. She pleaded for a daycare option so that she could work, but didn’t qualify for one. Her babies were only 2 weeks old; average maternity leave is 6 weeks. We decided that this situation wasn’t safe, and started a campaign to get them, all together, into a situation that was.

Luckily, I have a friend who is the general manager of a hotel in a nice area that is quiet and on a bus line. She gave us an outstanding rate for a room with a kitchenette at only $50/day. This was a safe place. It’s a nice hotel typically frequented by people on business trips near a very big company that often has people in for business. They would have a laundry room, free breakfast every day, wifi to help them navigate their world, and it was within walking distance of a grocery store and a Walgreens. We were so happy and put the word out on Facebook that we needed to raise funds to keep them in housing, and our people came to the rescue. Currently, they have safe housing until Tuesday, March 14.

Janelle and Roger are beaming now. They’re a step ahead of us all the way. They’ve set up appointments with their social workers, the elementary school, Family Promise and hospital visits. We were able to get them Regional Bus Passes, which allow them to travel all of Wake County, not just Raleigh, so that they can make their appointments and get the kids to the bus stop. The older twins are going to school every day, and they were instantly flourishing.

Roger can’t make the 5 a.m. labor call right now without sleeping outdoors (our busses don’t run at that time), so they’re using this time to do every single thing that they can until they get approved for a housing program- the waiting lists are long, but they’re on both Wake County and Durham County waiting lists, so they’re hedging their bets. I’ve talked to all of their social workers on a daily basis, and they’re meeting all requirements. We’ve given them the tools to be successful, but we still need your help.

Here’s what we need:

  • The waiting lists in both counties are long. If you would like to contribute directly to another night of safety, it’s only $50/night for a family of 7. Please email me at maranda@lovewinscec.org for details and I’ll get you the information you need so we can pay the hotel directly. To keep this family safe through April 1st will be $900 total.
  • Regional bus passes (that transfer to Go Raleigh) are $20 each, giving the rider a $25 value. We’ll need 6 of those, totaling $120. Kids ride for free!
  • Sometimes there are problems only money can solve – for example, birth certificates cost $15 each, especially if you have no address. Not everything falls into a box, and sometimes the difference between a “problem” and a “problem solved” is $10. We would like to raise $500 to have funds to throw at problems like this as they come up.

Stretch Goal:

  • Once they can enter a program, they become eligible for Wheels for Hope, a non-profit that provides people with vehicles that they can afford. This family has 3 car seats to deal with for the next few years and will probably need a van or SUV. (If you have a van or SUV that you would like to donate, we would love to hear from you.) I’m estimating total costs of that to be $1000.00. If we can help them cover some of this cost in the future, I think that would be a wonderful house-warming gift.

Here is how you can help:

If you want to help us with the hotel – email me at maranda@lovewinscec.org for details on how to pay the hotel directly.

For everything else, you can just donate via our donate page and we will make sure it gets to the right place. (If you wanted to send the family notes of encouragement or gift cards, you can mail them to the address on the donate page as well.)

Sometimes, it is easy to feel overwhelmed in the world, like a problem is so big that you can’t make a difference. Here is a concrete way for you to make a difference in one family’s life.  Life is hard. Life with newborns is harder, and doing it while homeless is near impossible without a village, or a community. Luckily, now they have that!

A Whole New World

I spent a good amount of my life just “dealing” with my eye sight. I had noticed there were problems, but nothing I couldn’t handle by just closing one eye or squinting really hard. I was prescribed eye glasses when I was in elementary school but refused to wear them because I hated the way I looked in them. There were plenty of times I couldn’t see but I just didn’t say anything. I knew that it would come down to having to get my eyes checked and get glasses again.

Through my adolescence and adult life, I had a few different pairs of glasses, and it seemed to help but over time I either lost them or didn’t wear them. I was in my mid-twenties when I started to notice that I was starting to see a gray spot in my left eye. I didn’t want to address it because my father had a blind spot in his eye, and it made me nervous that I’d suffer the same fate.

I was blessed to have gotten this amazing job at Love Wins, but that also entails me having to read e-mails and look at tiny numbers on a daily basis. It became more and more difficult to deal with my sight. As I was sitting at my desk one day, Hugh asked me why I was sitting so close to my computer screen to read a blog. It was time to tell the truth.

I started to explain the situation to him and I could see the look on his face. He seemed stunned that I had been handling this, and not saying anything to anyone about how bad my sight really was. That afternoon he took me to make an appointment to have my eyes checked again. It scared me. I was worried that I was going to be told I was going to have to wear an eye patch to read or something like that.  I made an appointment for the next day.

When I showed up for my appointment the next day it was a mixture of excitement and stress. The doctor took me back and began to tell me that it sounded like a problem that could be fixed. As he went through the routine test I began to see clearer and clearer. I honestly teared up and began to cry as he got to the end of the test. I could see! I wasn’t going to have to see a spot for the rest of my life. He informed me that I had a severe astigmatism in my left eye that reflects the light differently than normal shaped eyes would. With just the right lens, and a prescription, I didn’t have to worry about my sight.

A few days later, Hugh and I went to pick up my glasses. I cried, again. It was an emotional thing to see the leaves on a tree. The shape of the clouds. Seeing pebbles in the parking lot, and they had definition to them. I started reading the serial numbers on the tires of the car next to us at the stop light. I had to refrain from staring because the man in the car wasn’t understanding the amazement that I was going through.

Since I’ve had my glasses, I’ve read aloud morning e-mails from the Universe to Alyssa from the back of my office space because I can. I’m blessed to have those moments now. I see things more clearly than I ever have. And thankfully I don’t have to wear an eye patch…

Our campaign this month is “The Eyes of March”.  If you would like to help us help others experience the amazing clarity of sight, please donate here, and please bring us reading glasses and prescription glasses that we can find new owners for.  

Jersey in his newly adopted glasses. He’s been smiling ever since.

Meet Pastor Robert

Pastor Robert Parrish was born in Bryson City, NC. He has been legally blind since birth. He is the second oldest of 4 boys. At age 6 he started attending the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind. He was on the track team, President of Student Government and graduated 2nd in his class.

After high school he attended Appalachian State for his undergrad degree of BS in Speech Communications and minored in psychology. He was heavily involved in the Baptist Student Union on campus as well as the Speech and Debate team. He received his masters of Divinity from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC where he was also involved in the student government. He did residencies at UNC Hospitals and Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, TX as a chaplain.

He is currently President of the Wake Federation of the Blind here in Wake County, NC. This group helps advocate for the rights for those who are blind as well as help our legislature. He is involved with the Clergy at the Community United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC.
When he has free time he enjoys reading, playing guitar, practicing yoga and tai chi and plays basketball.

Pastor Robert has been a volunteer with Love Wins Community Engagement Center for about 5 years. He heard about us through a former employee who was a guest speaker at his church. The sermon moved his heart to find out more about us. He enjoys being directly involved with folks that are going through a rough patch and lending his ear and prayers.

I have enjoyed seeing Pastor Robert on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He usually greets me with a good Amish joke since I am Mennonite (not Amish, more on that another time). I enjoy seeing him engage with the community members and watch relationships form and grow week by week. On Thursdays we “get our Chi on” as he leads a beginners Tai Chi class in the common room. Whether he is leading 1 person or a dozen, all are invited and feel a sense of accomplishment when finished.

No matter what is happening at the Center on Tuesdays or Thursdays, Pastor Robert always brings his infectious smile, contagious laugh and plenty of hugs for everyone.

If you are ever wondering what to do on a Thursday morning, please stop by and join Pastor Robert for Tai Chi at 10:30. We look forward to seeing you!

I Get to Live for Another Month

Vanessa* sat in the conference room with her head in her hands. She had recently come back from the hospital where she had been written a prescription for insulin- the cost would be $300 to fill the script. “What am I going to do?”, she said, tears running down her cheeks. I called everywhere, and through some miracle, had gotten her an appointment to see a sliding-scale doctor, but it was two weeks away. In the meantime we had to solve the problem.

We started with a generous donation of time from someone who could provide her dietary counseling and strips to monitor her sugar with, but still, why was her medication so expensive? She didn’t have Medicaid, so essentially she was being asked to pay in order to merely survive as a person currently staying in a shelter.

Luckily, two more pharmacist friends later, we discovered that her prescription had been written incorrectly. It was written for 12 vials of insulin and no refills. It should have been 1 vial of insulin and 12 refills. The prescription was demanding that she buy 12 vials, all at once, with no refrigerator to keep them in; a mistake that could have been fatal. We later found the vials, sold over the counter at our local Wal-Mart for only $28 each.

While I felt lucky that we were able to get her covered until her appointment, I couldn’t help but feel angry with the doctor who didn’t take the time to say “You’re experiencing homelessness right now? It might be easier for you to get this medication over the counter, one vial at a time, for $28 instead of me writing you this incorrect, very expensive prescription that will cause you to worry and cry for several days”. That one incorrect prescription could have wiped out Love Win’s prescription assistance funding for 2 full months. I feel like we have to do better. As our community member,* Aiden, with type 1 diabetes (known as juvenile diabetes), who upon receiving testing strips through Love Wins prescription assistance program, said “Thank you, I get to live for another month.”

People experiencing homelessness have higher rates of diabetes than most typical populations, but why? In our personal experience, here at the center, we’ve found that a lot of free food donations are carb heavy and often sugar heavy. Pastries, cookies and bread come to us easily; lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruit are harder to come by.

We’ve been serving breakfast and lunch every day, with a focus on making sure that there are healthy diet choices, and we’ve been very fortunate to have donors who go out of their way to bring us fresh, healthy food. We don’t have the constraints that many soup kitchens have, as we’re cooking for an average of 45 people a day instead of 250, so we have the ability to take the dietary concerns of others into account in a way that larger agencies don’t.

We’re not sure if the rise in attendance of folks with serious dietary issues is a fluke, or if it is directly related to our ability to tailor our meal plans to suit a wide variety of needs: soft foods for people without teeth, healthy foods for people watching their diet, vegetarian and vegan options, pork-free options, and we take allergies into account as well. Focusing on diet is the first defense we have against life-threatening, long term illnesses.

We have also been very fortunate to have a new volunteer, a pharmacist, who is meeting one –on-one with our community members to discuss their dietary needs and medications. She’s become very popular around here, where straight answers are hard to find, and time to provide those answers, even harder. If you would like to contribute to the health of our community members via healthy food or prescription assistance, please click here for our donation page. We could also use multi-vitamins if you would like to donate in kind. When our community is healthy, everyone benefits; we all win.

* Names changed to protect privacy. 

Exciting Volunteer Opportunities!

Often when people come to volunteer at the center, they don’t know where to start or how they fit in. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available, including some brand new ones, so let us give you the rundown on some really great programs that we’re working hard on here at the Community Center.

 

The Really Free Closet

Volunteer, Billy, organizing men’s pants on our new hanging racks.

Do you have a flair for fashion? Do you have previous retail experience, or are you a meticulous organizer? If this sounds like you, we need your help! We need a volunteer every day who can keep our donation closet in excellent working order and help people find the right sizes in what they’re looking for. Duties include straightening and sorting donations, organizing clothing into sizes and being able to help people find what they need. We already have a volunteer or two who love to do this, but we have 5 days to fill at 4 hours each, so let alyssa@lovewinscec.org know that you’re interested, and we’ll get you started!

 

Front Desk

Volunteer, Thomas, works the front desk and gives new folks tours of the center.

We have a beautiful, front desk office that is completely under-utilized, it’s intention was to be a welcoming station for guests. Ideally, the volunteer who hangs out in this posh office will greet guests, make sure they sign in, answer the phone, and not be afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that, let me ask and get right back to you”, then find a staff member. This person will have a set of keys to our hygiene and first aid closets, and be able to get folks needed things out of there like soap, shampoo, toothpaste and band-aids. They’ll be able to let folks know that breakfast is at 9:30 and lunch is at 11:30, as well as being able to point people in the right direction so that they can get their needs met. If anyone would like to take it a step further, bring your laptop and look up directions, phone numbers, etc. to help our folks navigate the world. If you enjoy reception/admin./host opportunities, we need you! Email Alyssa Chamblee at alyssa@lovewinscec.org.

 

Nutrition Program Assistant

Operations Associate, Blu, making pasta for lunch in the church kitchen.

Do you love working in the kitchen? Do you have good knife skills, take direction well and maybe even have a couple of great recipes that you can instantly recall just by looking at what’s available (I know I do), then we need you in the kitchen! We serve breakfast and lunch every day, and sometimes that is more successful with more hands on deck. The person who would enjoy doing this would be someone with a passion for food who lacks the need to be in charge of the kitchen (we have a person for that on staff), though your moment may come if anyone falls ill around here. They will be a person who knows when the pot needs stirring, the griddle needs cleaning, and that you don’t cut chicken on the vegetable board. This person can be of many personality types, from the type of person who loves to follow a recipe to a person who plays “Iron Chef” with things grown in the community garden. If you love to feed people, we have a position (or 2) per day for you! If you’re interested in this position, email Blu Honeycutt at blu@lovewinscec.org and cc alyssa@lovewinscec.org.

 

Events Coordinator/Fundraiser

Flyer from the Love Wins Coat Drive at Bittersweet, organized by fundraising volunteer, Esther.

Are you the type of person who doesn’t have time to come volunteer during the day, but you can organize and throw a great party? Do you know a lot of restaurant owners/DJ’s/local business owners/grant givers? Then we really need you! We have to keep the momentum going and let folks know that we are here and exactly what we do. The person who would like to volunteer in this capacity will have an idea for a fundraiser. They’ll have social connections and a good online social media presence. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about in this description. You’re a mover and a shaker; you get things done. You create food drives, art shows, benefits, galas, balls, big parties, comedy shows, book bands, maybe you’re just really good at organizing your church into action. Whatever your special skill is, we need you. If you are picking up what I’m laying down, email MaRanda at maranda@lovewinscec.org.

 

Special Skills

Shelving, put together by our volunteer, Chico, for our food pantry.

Do you have a special skill that you would like to use for good? Are you good with computers? Are you a good artist? Are you a resume’ guru? We have 1 art therapist and 1 yoga instructor right now, but we could use more enrichment programs. Bring us your talent and share it with people who may not have the opportunity to participate in what you do typically. Not big on people interaction? We have opportunities for handy folks who are good with any type of trade skill pretty regularly. Prefer one on one interaction? We could use therapists, people with trucks that can help us move big things, carpenters to mend our deck, and people who can help us with getting folks to their appointments on time. If you like your day to be different every day and you have a special skill, we need you!!! Please email Alyssa at alyssa@lovewinscec.org. You are a crafty problem solver, and we could use your help!

Camping enthusiast? Awesome! Do you personally know where to go and how to navigate social programs? We need you so bad!!! Have you been a CNA, a nurse, an EMT professional? We always have questions! Do you want to teach a class in sewing, plumbing, finance, jewelry making, cooking, drawing, music, computer literacy, reading/writing, anything- we would love for you to teach us how to do that, too. Do you love to work in the garden? We have a community garden! There are so many opportunities to contribute; bring us your gifts and give the gift of a second chance for someone who could really use your help. We will hold a space for you, and together, we’ll hold a space for people to be their best selves!

To quote Pastor Hugh, “Nobody  has their best day alone”. Come make someone’s day!

Homelessness doesn’t get a snow day

When people who have regular jobs hear cold icy weather is coming, thoughts run through their head: Do we have bread and milk? Should we put salt the driveway for the morning just in case? Am I going to make it to work? Will school be canceled?

Here at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center, our worries are different: Does everyone have a sleeping bag? Do we have enough hats? Did we give out enough hand warmers? Where are these people going to sleep tonight?

So on Wednesday when we heard nasty weather was coming, we started trying to help our community members to prepare. We handed out socks, the few sleeping bags we had, hand warmers, gloves and hats. When there were no more gloves, we gave them socks for their hands.

Some of our people go to the shelters, but quite a few don’t, and those folks would be sleeping outside. It was difficult to watch them walk out Wednesday afternoon, knowing we had done all we could to get them prepared to get through the night. The staff members had decided that we were going to do whatever it took to be open for them the next morning. They just had to get through the night.

When I woke up on January 4 to a snowy landscape, I knew I was gonna to have to walk the 2 miles to work. Our people were gonna show up, and someone needed to be there.

I started walking. It was a cold windy morning and not many people were out and about. There wasn’t much traffic and what was out was moving at a snails pace.

When I rounded the turned at Love Wins there were no foot prints in the snow, but there was one car in the parking lot with 4 community members sitting in it, waiting for me to get here.  I go through the door and plugged in the coffee and the hot water kettle for hot chocolate. Then I took a breath and shed the 4 layers of clothing I was wearing.

I knew MaRanda was coming, and Alyssa had phoned to say she was stranded with her kiddos at her apartment in the suburbs. But for right now, it was just me.

People were coming, and they were going to be cold and hungry – my thoughts turned to  starting breakfast. Something hot, something quick, and something heavy… Oatmeal! I made it with milk and coconut cream, and then added some cinnamon, brown sugar, and a little butter.

MaRanda showed up 15 mins before opening time with a ton of coats people had donated – good, because we were going to need them!

“Open the doors! Let ‘em in!”, she told me, and so I did. I ran to front and slung the door open. Only six people walked through, but boy were they happy to see us there! And we were just as happy to see them!

Throughout the day more and more people would come through. I don’t think I had gotten and given so many hugs in my life. It was a warm feeling to see our folks coming through the door saying, “I knew ya’ll would be open!” and for us we knew we had helped someone survive a really cold wet night. And the next morning, when they woke up cold and wet, they knew we would be there for them.

Homelessness doesn’t get a snow day. So neither do we.

A Meal a Month

Celery, cabbage and corn for vegetable soup, caesar salad makings, bouillion to make future meals tasty and cinnamon for French Toast Friday.

People who listen to NPR know that they have an annual fund drive and ask people to become “sustainers”. This means giving a monthly gift that the organization can count on in order to pay expenses for the programming. I personally give to “Save the Children”, and it’s $20/month that I don’t miss out of my account. My husband is the NPR “Sustainer” in our house, and it makes sense, because we listen to it a lot.

I was thinking about how this relates to the center, and monthly contributions are wonderful because we know how much money is coming in each month. Right now we only have a handful of folks who do it, but at the beginning of every month it makes me smile. Our Sustainers rock! I was thinking of ways to make this more accessible to others- people often feel like they have to give a large sum of money all at once, or they wonder what a good amount would be that wouldn’t hurt them financially.

Now that the center is serving 2 meals a day, 5 days a week, we’re serving 60 or so meals a month! It’s absolutely amazing that we’ve been able to pull it off, but sometimes we need things to fill in the gaps, so I came up with an idea. It’s called “A Meal a Month”.

The idea is that for $20 a month, each individual contributor is essentially supporting a meal every month. One meal for 40-70 people is no small feat, and we can do a LOT with $20! Sometimes we run into things- not enough of any one type of pasta to do anything with, we’re out of cooking oil, we need butter to make grits taste like food, we have an abundance of hotdog buns but no hotdogs, we have 20 lbs. of hummus and need something to put it on. Problems that you’ve probably encountered in your own kitchen around dinner time.  Sometimes you just don’t have two things that match.

I’ve been a crazy, savvy shopper since I was a very young person, so I wanted to make a short example list of things we can do with $20!

Our receipt from Foodlion. This trip supported 3 specific meals this week, plus bouillion to make future meals tasty.

 

Dollar Store run for sausage and disinfectant.

• Morrell Kelbasa is sold for $1 each when I can catch it at our Poole Rd. Dollar Tree. People love it for breakfast or lunch, and 15 of those are PLENTY!

• 15 packs of chicken hotdogs can, in a pinch, serve all of our folks lunch. 20 packs make it so that we can have beanie weanies as a choice later in the week.

• The beans for beanie weanies are $4.50/#10 can at Sam’s Club, sometimes less. I could buy 3 plus enough hotdogs to make it tasty!

 

• Fish Sticks are sold at our (very local) Food Lion for 120/$7.99, it takes 2 to feed the center lunch! We’d have enough left over to buy ketchup too. A quick source of protein in a pinch.

• Saltines are $0.77/box at Food Lion, the perfect companion for that windfall of donated cheese, homemade chicken soup or a big batch of tuna. It takes 1-2 boxes to serve lunch, for only $1.54!

 

We play “Iron Chef” a lot at the center, but we’re proud to be able to serve home cooked meals daily, including fresh soups, chili, pastas and salads that are both healthy and hearty.  We’re proud to be able to offer both a meat and vegetarian option when we can, because choices provide dignity. If you would like to support a meal a month, please click here and, after clicking the donate button, choose the monthly payment option.

Blu’s homemade Snow Day Chili.

For delicious food pictures, like our facebook page. We update daily with center activities, happiness, and tons of homemade meals.