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Homeless in Jeffco

Showering Severe Weather Shelters with volunteers, donations

Annual event provides those who serve a chance to celebrate each other

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There are many things the average person can do to help the homeless in the community, from volunteering to donating needed items, but perhaps one of the most important things they need is empathy.

“Some people just need to walk a day in the homeless’ shoes,” said Rob Kinky, who was formerly homeless, and now volunteers his time driving vans for Bethlehem Lutheran and the Severe Weather Shelter Network. “I’m able to relate to the people I drive, and share all the resources I can with them.”

Kinky was just one of about a dozen volunteers and area church leaders who gathered at Bear Valley Church in Lakewood on Aug. 26 as part of the Shelter Network’s Shelter Shower. The event was an opportunity for network members to meet each other, learn about new and needed volunteer opportunities, and prepare for the coming autumn and winter months.

“We’re positioned to be a catalyst of change in the communities,” said Lynn Ann Huizing, head of network. “There are a lot of holes in addressing homeless needs we’re trying to fill in addition to providing them a place to sleep on cold nights.”

The Severe Weather Shelter Network is a Christian nonprofit working to make sure Jefferson County’s homeless are kept warm on freezing nights, through a program in which local churches provide host sites for homeless community members to spend the night, enjoy a hot, homemade meal and some warm conversation.

The network launched its central program with churches in Lakewood, Golden and Denver four years ago and another network in south Jeffco and Littleton a year later. It is in the process of trying to create one in the Arvada area as well.

“We’re always looking for volunteers, especially for the overnight hours,” said Tracy Thayer, who coordinates the shelter at Applewood Community Church in Golden. “This event is great because it’s often the only time our different volunteers meet each other.”

One of those community leaders is Ralph Phillips, who volunteers at Bethlehem Lutheran. The Lakewood church has been a leader in the Jeffco community for years, with programs like The Table, which offers weekly meals to homeless in the area.

“We’re always looking to recruit people to help in any way they can,” Phillips said. “Doing this kind of work is something anyone can do.”

In addition to recruiting volunteers and organizing much needed toiletries, clothes and other donations, it was also a chance to celebrate and encourage volunteerism.

“I just feel like we’re called to serve,” said Laura Prinzi, who volunteers with her sister Gail, at Bethlehem Lutheran, and her mother Darlene Milbrandt. “I have, so I should give.”

Her mother seconded those sentiments.

“There’s such a need in the community,” Milbrandt added. “We need to show these people we still love and care about them.”

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