Read about Bruce Miller’s experience of volunteering at a night shelter
Many of the night shelters around London are organised on the basis of local churches grouped into multiples of seven, each agreeing to have homeless people stay for one night per week. This involves providing an evening meal and then distributing bedding for them to sleep in the church hall, providing breakfast the following morning and then storing the labeled bedding for the same time next week. This would go on for a period of about six months starting in October and finishing in March.
St John the Baptist Church, Isleworth where Bruce volunteered.
So there are opportunities to help with cooking the evening meal, preparation of the men’s beds for sleeping, supervising the night shift and helping with breakfast and clear up in the morning. My wife helped to cook the evening meal and this involved taking the food down to the shelter for about 7pm and collecting the empty, washed, container at about 10pm. Other volunteers were actually in the building serving the meal and washing and cleaning up afterwards. So there are lots of ways to serve.
I got the chance to volunteer on a Thursday morning for eight weeks, during February and March 2017, at a night shelter in St. John’s Church of England, Isleworth. The work involved being there from 6:00-7:45am supporting between twelve to fourteen homeless men along with another five or six volunteers.
Specifically this meant helping to set up the large breakfast table, then as each man woke up, putting each person’s mattress and bedding into the storage room; helping to prepare breakfast and sitting with the men and talking together over breakfast; clearing up after breakfast, then sweeping , cleaning and preparing the hall for the daycare and nursery session that was immediately to follow. It was physical work but very encouraging to engage with the homeless men and meet with other volunteers in the community. It was also sad, as I listened to their stories of how they came to be homeless.
I remember one morning feeling sorry for myself, having to get out of bed so early, then I remembered the guys that I was about to serve. They were in a hall, sleeping on a 2” thick sponge mattress, with no family around them, all their possessions in a rucksack, and living on the streets. I got out of bed with a better attitude; shame on me for complaining. Truly, it is better to give than to receive.
The time I spent quickly flew by and on the last Thursday morning I expressed to one of the other volunteers that I was sad it was finished. It felt so good to serve, and I hope that the relationships I have formed and this small act of service will be pleasing to God.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering at night shelters over the winter please contact Jane Whitworth at firstname.lastname@example.org