This winter is going to be extremely difficult and cold for our community, please consider a donation of cold weather gear; learn how you can help.
This week was cold–numb-your-extremities, 28-degrees-at-night, people-die-in-this-kind-of-weather cold. Any other year, this week would have been a week that our winter night shelter (a joint venture between Mercy and our partners at St. John’s Lutheran Church) would have been bustling and busy. Volunteers would be cooking and dropping off hot soups for an evening meal, community members would be distributing and sharing warm blankets and mats, your pastors would be working round the clock, and 50-60 beloved and valuable human beings would find a little bit of warmth and safety in a cramped and cozy fellowship hall.
Winter during a pandemic
As if you haven’t heard this phrase enough—this year is different. Despite many brainstorming sessions and creative thinking, we did not know how to open our freeze shelter as in years past without significantly increasing our community’s risk to Covid19. Though our church community has continued gathering throughout the pandemic (always weighing the cost of multiple health crises at play), it has been with extreme caution. Many of our community members are elderly, others have health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable—and we have already lost someone to the virus. As a church community we are committed to protecting and caring for one another as best as we are able–we know we have to be exceedingly careful with one another. So then what were we to do when we didn’t feel safe coming indoors overnight, but also did not want our beloved friends and neighbors to freeze to death when temperatures drop this winter?
Our solution isn’t perfect and it definitely doesn’t feel like enough for the people we love, but what we decided to do was to equip our community members as best we could with warm winter clothes and sleeping bags rated for sleeping outside in 0 degrees. While the city is providing some emergency shelter indoors, this information is not always well-shared to those who actually need it. When announcements come out online, we try to inform the people we are with day in and day out so that they know what is available. But the truth is many people will still sleep outside. There is not enough shelter this winter to keep everyone safe. As a church, we have a responsibility to do what simple things we can to care for our beloved community. It isn’t the warm indoors—but proper winter gear can help people survive. Our friends at St. John’s Lutheran helped us purchase our first big haul of winter-rated sleeping bags, many of which we passed out this week. While we haven’t been able to gather inside, we’ve also purchased outdoor heaters and have been trying to help people stay warm with extra hot meals and coffee in the early mornings (which is often the coldest time of the day).
Encouraged by generosity
While our storage space was full of sleeping bags, coats, gloves, and hand warmers earlier this week, I already see our stash diminishing after one week of winter weather, and every day new people show up, having heard that the lawn of St. John’s was someplace to get something to keep you warm. I am encouraged to know that many other churches and individuals continue to collect sleeping bags and warm clothes for us to share—we’ll need them.
The response from the community has been one of grace. According to our members the sleeping bags work surprisingly well at keeping people warm enough through the night. Despite our limitations this year, the community has been understanding and even grateful. Every winter I am reminded just how much I love my church community and its radical commitment to Christian hospitality. For in the most difficult, longest, coldest nights, we manage to do what we can for one another—simply put, because we love one another. And if you love someone, you want them to be well and warm enough. What we do surely doesn’t ever feel like enough, but we’ll keep showing up to be present to those we love however we can. I am thankful for that, as well as all the many people who make what we do possible.