KINGSTOWN — A local nonprofit’s emergency winter shelter opens Thursday at the Chestertown Church of the Nazarene, where a meeting room has been transformed into a dormitory-style facility with 15 beds.
The shelter was set up Monday morning. Metal bed frames and mattresses, and bags and plastic bins containing sheets, pillows, other bedding and towels were taken from storage in Chestertown across the Chester River bridge to the nearby Nazarene Church in Queen Anne’s County.
About a dozen volunteers did the heavy lifting and KRM Development Corp. provided a full-size pickup truck.
The Nazarene Church is the first stop for the Samaritan Group of Kent County’s cold-weather homeless shelter.
The locale will shift to First United Methodist Church in February and the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown in March — each time the shelter breakdown and setup following the process as was done Monday.
James Digges, pastor of the Nazarene Church, is in his third year as shelter coordinator.
Volunteers prepare meals and are on-site from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.
They also provide the physical labor — like loading and unloading trucks, moving beds and setting up divider screens.
Tanner Reed, 15, of Chestertown was one of those helpers Monday morning. He tagged along with his mother Barbara, who has been an overnight volunteer at the shelter.
“I’m trying to get him involved, trying to teach the youth how to volunteer,” Barbara Reed said.
Tanner Reed arrived just in time to help move the heavy bed frames, mattresses and linens out of the basement of a volunteer’s home and on to the KRM-provided truck. He worked to assembly-line precision with volunteers that included Jeffrey Phillips and Phyllis Kacher.
Phillips, a member of the Samaritan Group’s board of directors, said he has volunteered for several years. After Monday’s setup was completed Phillips was headed to First United Methodist Church in Chestertown, where he is an integral member of the team that provides the Monday community dinner each week.
Kacher, who is an educational diagnostician with a school district in Delaware, was on vacation. “When I see an opportunity to volunteer and I can, I take it,” she said.
Digges, Barbara Reed, the Rev. David Ryan, Jerry Ferguson and Paul Cambardella were tasked with putting together the beds. Ryan, chairman, and Ferguson are members of the Samaritan Group’s board of directors.
Cambardella and Wanda Boyer are paid staff. This is the first year for both. Cambardella is Digges’ assistant, while Boyer is the community resource liaison.
Boyer’s position is funded through a $3,000 grant obtained by the Presbyterian Church, according to Ryan. Meeting with the shelter guests every week, Boyer will work with them to create individualized plans aimed at helping them connect with other resources beyond an emergency stay.
The Samaritan Group in its 2020 spending plan budgeted for an assistant to the shelter coordinator. This is a new position. Cambardella will open the shelter two nights a week and be on call those nights, among other duties.
“It’s neat for me to meld with all walks of life,” he said Monday while setting up the shelter. “I make it a point of treating everyone alike.”
Another of the key staff is Janet Hilty. She is the food coordinator, which is an unpaid position. Among other duties, she is responsible for lining up volunteers to provide dinner and breakfast. Those who bring a hot meal every night also prepare the bag lunch for the following day.
Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. and shelter guests must be out by 8 a.m.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering can contact Hilty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her “day job” is transition specialist at Chesapeake College. She also is a member of the Samaritan Group board and attends the Nazarene Church.
Guests may be referred by local churches, the Salvation Army, the Good Neighbor Fund or the Department of Social Services. All guests are screened by the Department of Social Services. They must remain drug- and alcohol-free during their stay in the shelter.
Ryan, pastor of First UMC and Christ UMC, said every story is different. Some guests have jobs, some are living on the street, and some are staying on a friend’s couch or in their garage.
“Our goal is to stay true to our mission of providing an emergency winter shelter. We don’t want to be someone’s annual three-month plan, but we don’t refuse anyone,” he said.
Last year 28 guests were served, seven more than in 2018. The total bed nights — i.e., how many people were in a bed every night — was 921, a notable drop from 1,033 in 2018.
The Samaritan Group has been working to shelter Kent County’s homeless since 2001.
The nonprofit also provides outreach services including help with finding permanent residences or paying utility bills; working with landlords to avoid evictions; helping with the cost of emergency medical care; and coordinating with local agencies to provide clothing, furniture and child care necessities.
To find out how you can help, see the Samaritans’ website — samaritangroupkent.org.