That Indian summer we had last week was nice while it lasted, but this week's colder temperatures remind us that winter is just around the corner.
For some of us that means a flurry of activity and excitement as we pull those warmer clothes out of storage, make plans for the upcoming holiday season and dust off our skis in anticipation of the first snowfall. For the less fortunate among us, however, this time of year brings on a sense of anxiety over finding a warm place to sleep during those cold winter nights.
An estimated 600,000 to 1.1 million people in the United States are homeless at any given time, according to PovertyLiving.com. And forget any preconceived notions you may have about homeless people being lazy bums just looking for a handout. Some of them may be veterans who had a tough time reintegrating back into society, or they may be average folks who are simply down on their luck during these difficult economic times. Some suffer from mental illness or drug addiction.
Whatever the circumstances that led to their current plight, none of them deserve to freeze to death. Here in America -- the wealthiest, most advanced nation in the world -- there's simply no excuse for that.
Fortunately, many of these people are able to find temporary reprieve from the cold by staying in homeless shelters during the overnight hours.
Both shelters rely on volunteers to help staff the facilities in six hour shifts, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and from 1 to 7 a.m., and both are offering training sessions for anyone interested in helping their less fortunate neighbors. At Morningside, volunteer training sessions will be held this Sunday, Oct. 27, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 2, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The Greater Falls Warming Shelter is holding training sessions on Sunday, Nov. 3, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. Topics covered will include shelter protocol and rules, expectations of volunteers, and dealing with situations that may arise.
The Greater Falls shelter will also hold an open house for the community on Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. The public is invited to tour the shelter, meet the board and staff, and learn about volunteer opportunities.
Volunteer duties include being awake and available to supervise those sleeping at the shelter and doing some light duties involving the serving and cleanup of the evening meal and snacks. Volunteers can sign up on a regular basis or as their schedules permit.
As Morningside notes in a recent press release, this is a meaningful volunteer opportunity, perfect for students, retirees, anyone and everyone. For those who have the extra time to spare, even if it's just one night a week, it's a chance to give back to the community.
For those who can't spare the extra time, there is another way to help -- by donating food. Hunger is a problem for many of our neighbors, even those who have a home. And the problem is about to get worse. With food donations down 18 percent and federal funding cuts coming Nov. 1, the Vermont Foodbank says Vermonters in need of nutrition assistance are facing a "perfect storm."
Foodbank CEO John Sayles says a food aid funding boost passed by Congress in 2009 expires at the end of the month. Households will see benefit cuts ranging from $11 to $35 per month. Meanwhile, a major donor to food banks in New England has discontinued that activity, resulting in a 10 percent drop in donated food.
Sayles says the Foodbank is absorbing that news as it expects increasing demand due to the cuts in funding that supports the 3SquaresVermont program.
One thing there has never been a shortage of here in Windham County is compassion for our neighbors in need. So as you make those holiday plans and dust off those skis, try to think about how you can help your neighbors as they struggle through hunger or homelessness.