“I don’t mean to cry. But I can’t help it.”: How the Winter Warming Centers are affecting the city

“I have never felt so cared-for in my whole life.”

It was Eugene’s birthday recently. There were barbecued ribs, courtesy of a volunteer meals team. There were ice cream sundaes. There were 14 guests and a half-dozen host volunteers around the family table, and there was laughter, and fellowship, and food, and warmth.

Later on there was a movie in an adjacent room, and card games, and heart-to-hearts. And in the morning it packed up, loaded onto a bus, and left – only to materialize a few hours later at another church site, with more laughter and food and fellowship and warmth, all over again.

“I am so happy to be here every night with my family. This is truly my family.”

It has happened for 13 weeks now this winter, changing church venues every night, and it will happen for three more.  The Winter Warming Centers, which began as a simple effort to provide overnight shelter to West Sacramento’s homeless, have blossomed into so much more.

“I don’t mean to cry. But I can’t help it. This place is so beautiful to me.  It’s changed my life.”

  Every night, around the traveling family table, each person is asked to give their highlight for the day.  For many guests and volunteers alike, the table itself is the answer.

“You don’t understand.  I’ve spent 30 years being rejected by everyone. I don’t even know what to do with this (kind of love).”

Those are some of the comments that’ve been heard from guests, on a nightly basis, as the Winter Warming Centers have continued their exhilarating caravan around the city.  For the guests, staff and volunteers of this pilot program, the initial enthusiasm of December hasn’t ebbed in the least.  If anything, it keeps elevating with more generosity, more love poured out, and a level of relationship with guests and staff that has been unexpected and humbling.

The highlight of my day is this.  It’s always this.  Being here, with all of you.”