It gripped my kids and me the other night when we stepped outside after music lessons and it made us shiver. We huddled and hurried to get to the warmth of our vehicle.
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That afternoon, I’d been waiting to see if my son’s soccer game would be canceled. I bemoaned the thought of him playing in the cold rain and of the rest of us braving the weather to spectate. Thankfully, for us, whether to face the elements was optional. For many people it’s not.
As I closed the van doors and jacked up the heat, I thought about people who would be sleeping outside in a cold, wet, 42 degrees. Because in that moment I’d not yet shaken the chill, the dreadfulness of the fact was especially real to me.
I remembered talking earlier in the week with a worker at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter. She told me the facility, which is equipped to accommodate 56 people, would open the end of October. That would mean several weeks of harsh outdoor living for many and worse than that for others for whom there wouldn’t be room.
I own more jackets and coats than one human would ever actually need. I’d been rushing around that day and failed to grab one when I left the house. I was thinking perhaps I should pass a couple of them on to someone who really does need them.
Some readers likely will grumble at my words and think of people in severe need as an abstract “other.” Maybe it seems the average homeless person has little in common with your family or your neighbors. It’s true that many have addiction issues or mental illness. Others made some poor choices, while still others faced just one too many challenges to overcome and before they knew it, the rug from beneath their feet was literally and figuratively gone.
Whatever the cause, it must be physically and emotionally agonizing to be unable to provide for yourself or your family. To not have a safe, comfortable place to lay your head. I’m sure I can’t fathom the implications in terms of school, work, relationships, medical needs. It boggles my mind looking in from the outside. I can’t imagine trying to wrangle my way back to my feet from inside the snare.
I also heard a story this week about a local teacher who noticed a child who was ravenous when free breakfast was distributed one morning at school. He seemed unable to eat fast enough, and she asked him what was wrong.
“It wasn’t my turn to eat last night,” was his reply.
Local charity workers say they sometimes receive donated items that are not most urgently needed from people who are hoping to help. Following is a list of Hagerstown-based organizations, drop-off locations and items they would find most helpful as they support people to get back on their feet. It is by no means comprehensive. But it’s a place to start.
• The Hope Center at Hagerstown Rescue Mission, 125 N. Prospect St., downtown Hagerstown —New or gently used pillows, blankets, towels, washcloths; any size coats, winter clothing; nonperishable food.
• REACH Cold Weather Shelter, Suite 300, 140 W. Franklin St., downtown Hagerstown — Dish soap, bleach, disposable gloves, Lime-A-Way, toilet paper, sugar, dry milk, large cans of non-instant coffee; men’s belts of all sizes, men’s white socks, large to 2X T-shirts. Call the shelter at 301-733-2371 for more needs.
• Food Resources Inc., 220 McRand Court, west of Hagerstown, and various distribution sites — Boxed goods rather than canned; rice, pasta, Hamburger Helper, cereal but not oatmeal. Call 301-733-4002 for more information.
• Salvation Army Women and Children’s Shelter, 534 W. Franklin St., Hagerstown — Nonperishable food; new and gently used clothing; financial donations toward staff, utilities and insurance.
• Children in Need, 131 W. North Ave., Hagerstown — Gently used clothing and coats; new underwear, socks, hats and gloves; toiletries and school supplies. Call 301-671-2014 for more information.
• Celebration Ministries, 17638 Garden View Road, Hagerstown — Non-perishable food, adult clothing, coats, gloves, hats. Towels, washcloths, bedding. Call 301-393-4377 for drop-off appointment.
Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is email@example.com.