Written by Jerry Medina
On December 15th, a few of us volunteered at the Day-By-Day Warming Shelter in Oshkosh. It was the first of our two volunteer activities there this month, and the first of what will hopefully be many visits to come.
If you’re not familiar with it already, the Day-By-Day Warming Shelter is a warm place to sleep for those who have fallen on hard times. They can take a shower and get laundry done, and get at least one hearty meal each day. Personally, I didn’t know what to expect, but I can honestly say it was one of my most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
The shelter can only take in 25 people each night. Normally, they operate at capacity, but there were only 18 individuals (all men on this particular night) that came in. Some have part-time jobs, but can’t afford a place to live; others have health conditions that prevent them from obtaining gainful employment; but one thing that was absolutely clear was that these were not people who were simply taking advantage of the service that was being provided to them.
The Shelter opens up by taking in only those individuals who “qualify”. They will not allow drugs or alcohol on the premises, so anyone who tries to bring in any illicit substances will be turned away. Once inside, their belongings are checked to make sure there are no weapons, drugs or other intoxicants. Each person then draws a popsicle stick from a jar with a “chore” on it. The chores are a small way to ensure that guests do just a little something to keep the place clean and orderly. Most tasks just required wiping down tables, chairs, showers, or sweeping and mopping.
Once a chore was selected, the individual could sign up for a shower and get their laundry done. Then, they grabbed a “bin” where their bedding and other personal belongings were kept. Bins were placed next to their mattress beds, which they had to make themselves. Once the beds were made, medications were passed out to those who needed them and food was given. Saturday nights are left-over nights, but in all honesty, they still ate better than I do on any given Tuesday.
Some guests went to bed immediately after dinner, others showered or watched TV for an hour or two. While some did their chores, others talked football or read books they had brought with them or kept in their bins. It was incredible to see how each individual knew what they were supposed to be doing, when they were supposed to be doing it, and what was expected of them.
Since it was my first time volunteering, I was a little lost at times. However, these guys were able to tell me where to find something and what needed to be signed. They were so familiar with the system there that they could literally train me, the person who was supposed to be helping them. Despite them telling me what I was supposed to be doing, I was the one being thanked. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I have been thanked so many times and I honestly didn’t feel like I was doing that much.
Lights out is at 10:20. Electronics are shut off and everyone is expected to go to bed. The ones who have jobs needed to be up at 6:00 am, so they requested earlier wake up calls. Everyone will get a breakfast bag in the morning, their laundry will be ready, and they will have to leave and take on the day the best way they can.
… Most, if not all, will be back again the following night.