Warming shelter guests received a warm welcome on a cold night Wednesday at Hood River Alliance Church.
Ellen McCarty took Rod Beal's receipt for collected bottles and told him she would redeem it for him at Safeway, which he didn't have a chance to do earlier.
Beal said, "This is a blessing to me. I'm on the street. That's all I am, is I'm on the street."
McCarty, site coordinator for the church, said of the shelter, "It serves a need. This year we've really gotten the word out," including flyers around town.
"It means the world to me. I was raised in church, but doing this is a joy, and with all the wonderful people from the different churches," McCarty said.
The warming shelter, in its second year, did not start until January in 2010.
This year it got going Dec. 4 and runs every day, meaning the shelter will have guests on Christmas Day.
The warming shelter committee is planning to stay open all day Dec. 25. Instead of the usual schedule of closing the doors at 8 a.m., the guests will be able to go directly from Alliance to Immanuel Lutheran Church, the warming shelter site for Dec. 25-Jan. 1.
"Things are closed all day Christmas, and there's nowhere for the guests to go, and it's cold, so we plan to create a welcoming place all day," said Immanuel Pastor Jeff Mueller. The volunteers will serve a Christmas dinner and provide activities.
It's all part of how the volunteers have found creative ways to respond to the needs of homeless in the community.
McCarty spends plenty of time herself at the shelter during Alliance's turn, and she has rallied family and Facebook friends to help out with donations for shoes, diapers and other items for people staying at the shelter.
"I started attending church because of the shelter," said McCarty, who grew up in Hood River. "I went through the volunteer training, after my friend Andy Wade, the volunteer coordinator, said they needed help. So I started helping two or three nights a week, and I started going to this church. Now I'm the coordinator.
McCarty said she lives with her mother, Esther Gorman, "which is wonderful, but my kids are big, and they don't really need me. I get a big smile from being here."
Beal, who has a week's worth of whiskers, said until recently he had a full beard, and he gestured at its length.
"Mine was like, down to here."
McCarty asks him, "You were scraggly, huh?"
"I was scraggly and scaggely," Beal said. "I was that way, then I came here, they gave me a little shelter, a little help, I appreciate what they do." Beal, a Georgia native, said, "I'm a traveler," and that his most recent shelter was NORCOR in The Dalles, where he did time for trespassing.
All told, about 15 people were expected to stay Wednesday night at the shelter. McCarty expected another family to come over from White Salmon, where they live in an unheated borrowed trailer.
"They have little ones, and it has been cold," she said.
"These people are the nicest people, their girls have the biggest smiles," McCarty said.
A family of five played games at one end of the modular while volunteer Amy Hawk helped get snacks and coffee going with the help of a trio of young people who had run out of gas and are staying at the shelter.
One of the three, who asked to be called Eric, is a carpenter who found work on a local construction project.
"He's earning enough to help keep them going," McCarty said. "They even took the volunteer training," she said.
On Thursday, the guests would be given vouchers to take showers at Hood River pool. While this was a welcome amenity, McCarty said she realized something was missing.
"We don't even think about it; yeah, we provide showers but do we have towels? Soap? Shampoo?" So McCarty and her mother went through their closets and pulled out towels they don't need, and bought a few toiletries.
McCarty smiled and greeted guest and volunteers and seemed in just the right place, but she said she prefers the midnight shift rather than the earlier one.
"So I can come here and just sit. Because it makes me sad," McCarty said.