September 23, 2018
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Houses Of Worship Open Their Doors For Winter Relief

Sharon Mager
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November 8, 2017

As the weather gradually transitions and cold winds blow through Anne Arundel County, homeless men and women scramble to find shelter or fortify their tents. The Winter Relief temporary shelter program, offered through the Arundel House of Hope (AHOH), in partnership with houses of worship in Pasadena and Glen Burnie, is a lifesaver for some individuals. Each year, from October to April, more than 65 churches, a synagogue and the Emmaus Center host groups of men and women. Those sites provide meals, a warm place to sleep and companionship for a week or more.

Each site offers its guests the basics, but each experience is unique. These are just a few examples of how volunteers are showing love to this often forgotten community.

Jenkins Memorial Church assistant pastor and Winter Relief site coordinator Jesse Robinson said that in addition to providing shower and laundry facilities, church members serve hot breakfasts and dinners each day for their guests, who will arrive in March 2018.

Fifth-graders at Riviera Beach Elementary School are partnering with the church to bag lunches for the men to take with them while they’re out during the day.

“Fridays are our big pizza party every year,” Robinson said. “The guys like that. On Sunday night, we make ice cream sundaes.”

Just a few miles up Fort Smallwood Road, Community United Methodist Church has three shifts of at least 30 volunteers who work morning, evening and overnight. Site coordinator Ginny Williams said Community UMC partners with smaller churches in the area that can’t host the overnight guests but want to be involved. Volunteers from Solley United Methodist Church and Emmanuel Lutheran Church help with dinners.

Williams, who has served as site coordinator for about 15 years, said she is blessed and touched by the ministry. “You can’t do an outreach like this without being affected,” she said. “It’s a fantastic ministry.”

Bodkin Elementary School, just across the street from Our Lady of the Chesapeake, participates in the Winter Relief program, not only helping the men and women who are without shelter, but also teaching students about the issue of homelessness and about empathy.

“We’ve become a ‘changemaking’ school,” said Jennifer Elsis, a Bodkin counselor. Elsis said the school strives to teach problem solving, teamwork and leadership skills.

The whole school is involved. Children in kindergarten through first grade decorate placemats and bags; second- and third-graders write letters and draw pictures to go into the lunch bags. Fourth- and fifth-graders wash fruit, make sandwiches and pack lunches.

Teachers take the children on a “field trip” to the church while the guests are away. The kids see the cots and get a chance to be in a real shelter environment, even if it’s just a temporary environment, Elsis said.

Site coordinator Mary Cooley said the church truly appreciates the children’s service. “It’s very sweet,” she said.

In addition to the partnership with the school, other organizations help at Our Lady of the Chesapeake. Galilee Lutheran Church prepares dinners each year, and local businesses provide food, services and other donations. Extraordinary Limousine offers stretch and party limos to drive guests to a local middle school for showers.

Close to 200 volunteers collectively put in about 1,200 hours of work to make the ministry a success. AHOH Winter Relief program director Pam Biddlecomb said there is a waiting list every day for Winter Relief and that the day center is overflowing.

More help is always needed. Even if a church is too small to offer shelter, it can partner with another church. Volunteers are needed at all of the locations and at AHOH year-round. In addition, donations of socks and underwear, deodorant and blankets are always appreciated.

For more information about the Winter Relief program or the Arundel House of Hope, visit

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