by CHRIS ROGERS
Next week, a new, volunteer-powered organization will offer 10 warm beds in a city with little emergency housing. The city is Winona, and until now, the Winona Catholic Worker’s four, rarely-empty beds have been among the only local shelter for Winonans who become homeless. On 9 p.m. on January 7 that will change, when the new shelter, the Winona Community Warming Center, opens its doors for the first time.
Volunteers stepped out of the cold wind on downtown Third Street and filtered into Community Bible Church last week for a training on how to welcome guests to the warming center and what to expect on a nighttime shift. Cindy Gabrick was one of them.
“It’s been a long time coming to Winona,” Gabrick said of the new shelter. This will not be the Fountain City woman’s first or only volunteer gig. Like many of the volunteers gathered last Tuesday night, Gabrick has often donated her time. “It’s what we’re here for — to serve,” she explained. Others sitting around her were full-time workers and parents. When Gabrick read about the new homeless shelter opening, she felt moved and called to be part of it. She added that she understands the need for shelters like the warming center on a personal level after seeing friends and family struggle with addiction. “It hits home, too,” Gabrick said.
The warming center will ask teams of volunteers to watch over the shelter overnight. Most volunteer teams will trade off 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. shifts and 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. shifts. Ideally, each volunteer would cover no more than two shifts per month. The warming center will only be open seasonally, from November through March. “It’s a small operation, but it’s more than Winona has right now,” warming center coordinator Tom Parlin said.
Asked if she was worried about the hours, Gabrick laughed. “I can go on little sleep. I’ve got a grandson,” she replied.
Donations of appliances, mattresses, bedding, funds, and more have poured in. “The community has been amazing,” said warming center organizer Cynthia Dozier. While the warming center still has a donation wish list, volunteers are what it needs most.
So far, five local churches have fielded teams of volunteers, a college social work club may make up a sixth team, and more than 25 “free agents” signed up individually to volunteer. Parlin said the center is well on its way to recruiting enough volunteers, but it is still looking for more. Parlin and his fellow organizers hope to recruit a total of 15 teams of eight people each.
People interested in volunteering may contact Tom Parlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-458-9197.