Come In From The Cold
For many of us, chilly winter months mean lots of time spent shut in and bundled up to stay warm and comfortable. At St. Luke’s of Culpeper, winter’s harsh weather is an opportunity to open their doors and welcome the homeless inside for warmth, food, and a safe space to rest for the evening. Joined with roughly 22 area churches, and partnered with local businesses, St. Luke’s is the host for The Culpeper Winter Heat Shelter, serving those in need in the bottom floor of their parish hall. The shelter operates for 18 weeks each winter, beginning in mid to late November as a comforting haven from the cold.
The Winter Heat Shelter is working to meet the great need in the Culpeper area, “Last year we served a total of 78 people over four months. This year in the first six weeks alone we have served a total of 42 people,” said Bill Schlegel, a member of St. Luke’s and Treasurer and Vice Chair of The Culpeper Winter Heat Shelter. Last year St. Luke’s had 18 cots available for its guest to rest on, but this year thanks in part to a grant they received funding to purchase additional cots and can now comfortably house up to 33 men, women, and children on cots.
In addition to bedding, the shelter provides chaperones, warm dinner, breakfast, as well as a bagged lunches for guests staying at the Winter Heat Shelter. These services all provided by volunteers from St. Luke’s and the 22 area churches that work together in this ministry. By the end of this winter season roughly 150 volunteers from the Culpeper community will have given their time to assist those in need.
Pastor Kate Costa of St. Luke’s is a champion for the ministry provided by the Winter Heat Shelter serving at St. Luke’s, stating that “It’s how you serve your neighbor. Jesus calls us to tend to our neighbors and we are blessed to be in a position to do God’s work.” Doing God’s work at the shelter may take the form of chaperoning, serving meals, or spending time talking to guest and playing games.
For Bill, the shelter’s efforts are a personal cause for him, “I can’t imagine living homeless, but I was in need when I was nine,” at that young age Bill’s father passed away, and his mother was then hospitalized for long-term treatment, leaving him in need of a new home, “God provided an incredible one for me. I had the opportunity to attend a residential school called Milton Hershey School.” There he received housing, education. Now retired, Bill is able to pay the kindness given to him when he was young to those in need now, “It’s a way to share a little, and has been an enjoyable way to get to meet and bring people together different denominations, faiths, and races to serve a common purpose.”
There’s faith Pastor Kate said that this shelter can be a place of support that can lead to independence for those they serve, “The hope is for them to find a place where they are loved, where their worth is the fact that they are a child of God. The primary way we show love is by providing housing and food, and from our actions we hope they find God. We hope this ministry can assist them in becoming independent.”
This ministry is not exclusive to winter months alone. Over the summer St. Luke and four other area churches held food drives, to support the food pantry that feeds the guests staying in the shelter. The year-round mission to assist the homeless during the coldest months of the year is one that has encouraged many volunteers, and members of the community to show continued support for the Winter Heat Shelter.
“Last year, my fellow committee members would frequently say “God is Good” to each other when additional support came our way, or good news about a shelter guest came our way. We had many opportunities to repeat that phrase. This year, the outpouring of support, and resources- financial, food, supplies, volunteers, and new partner Churches- for this ministry has been overwhelming. Unfortunately, we see a continuing and growing need.”