The National Guard Armory in Gilroy becomes a life-saving shelter on nights when the mercury drops below freezing. In anticipation each evening, three rows of 15 thin narrow green mats are laid out on the floor, and another smaller group is laid out in a separate women’s area of the temporary cold weather shelter. The Armory is open nights from the end of November through March.
This is the 23rd season that the shelter has been provided by the Emergency Housing Consortium LifeBuilders, a Santa Clara County nonprofit group.
Those looking for some hot soup and a place to lay their heads for the night begin staking out their spots by placing their possessions on the mats as soon as they are allowed in to the Armory at 8490 Wren Ave., beginning at 6 p.m. They must be up and out by 6 a.m. They are fed each evening by an all-volunteer effort with food provided by the Gilroy community.
Solorsano Middle School Val Kelly and I have the joy and privilege of coordinating the Monday night teams of volunteers. It takes about 40 volunteers to staff four teams, as well as an entire corps of Solorsano Middle School honors students whom Kelly recruits along with her fellow instructors.
Teams of volunteers from every walk of life in Gilroy and Morgan Hill make at least six pots of soup, pasta, or other food per night and serve it to all those who line up between 6:30 and 7 p.m. The leftovers are eaten by late-comers or for breakfast the next morning.
Retired city planner Bill Faus is a volunteer who likes to add some variety to he brings. One night he brought a huge stack of pizzas. It was a hit.
“We never get pizza!” one woman said, as more people quickly joined the food line.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling it gives me,” Faus says with unflagging enthusiasm as he volunteers every season. “I get a lot more out of it than I give. It feeds my soul.”
This season I am more surprised than ever by who I see coming in for shelter: a well-dressed mom and a dad who looks like he works out at a gym, along with their two polite children who attend El Roble Elementary School; a professional man in business attire; a former Gilroy High School student whose life has taken a downturn, and more women than ever before.
Last week 98 people lined up in the rain and cold, waiting for food and shelter for a few hours before having to be up and out and back on the streets, at school and their jobs. I will never forget one woman I met who was shaking like a leaf.
“This is my first night here,” she confided as she clutched her backpack for dear life. “I don’t know what to do. Do you know where I can put my things?” She looked as if she had just stepped out from behind a desk in a professional law office.
As I tried to answer her questions and reassure her, I realized how it is easy to become toward those we see around us in everyday life, such as the homeless who approach us in parking lots asking for a handout.
Granted, there are those who are taking advantage of others, but it was startling to see the level of fear in someone who is just learning the ropes for the first time in becoming homeless.
The need for those seeking shelter will climb to more than 100 soon.
Elizabeth Griswold, community relations specialist, gave me some ideas for ways anyone can help those less fortunate:
“Families are always interested in helping us, but bringing younger kids to the shelter is not recommended,” she said.
Families can definitely help us out during one of their Sunday school meetings or community activities with the following needs:
1) We are always looking for groups to make holiday cards to give our clients. (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.)
2) We are always in need of powder laundry detergent. If you purchase the large powdered soap, the kids could put one scoop of soap into a snack size Ziploc bag.
3) Make centerpieces for our tables for a particular time of year.
4) Roll plastic utensils and tie with a ribbon. The kids could add a little note or a picture. The Armory aims to collect items in quantities of 125.
Help families and single adults restore their sense of dignityby donating the following items:
For more info, contact: [email protected] at (408)539-2143
Sunday 1st, 3rd and 5th: Morgan Hill Methodist Church
Monday (every): Gilroy United Methodist Church
Tuesday (every): Morgan Hill Latter Day Saints
Wednesday (every): Martha’s Kitchen – San Jose
Thursday (every): Gilroy 1st Baptist Church
Friday (once a month): Team Gilroy (teachers and fireman)
Saturday (Every): Tzu Chi(http://northerncal.us.tzuchi.org/nc.nsf/home/index)