Community efforts help rescue souls

Tyler Valk, Contributing Writer

This time of year is known for holidays and for the winter weather that comes with living in Michigan. Holidays often make many people think of feel-good movies, especially the ones where people go to the homeless shelter in their community and volunteer their time to help those who are less fortunate. Being able to find the time to donate to help those individuals in the shelters has been challenging and now with COVID-19 things are even more challenging. Before COVID-19, the Rescue Mission in Muskegon County had 14,000 hrs. of volunteer time in a year. Now since COVID-19, the hours of volunteering are way down and the Rescue Mission is spread thin with volunteers because many people are worried about contracting the virus.
Many times we think of the homeless when we are driving on the highway and get off or on at one of the exits and see the homeless standing at the corner. It seems like there are a lot of people standing on the corners and not working but in all actuality, a small percent of the homeless are standing out on the street corners with a sign while most of them are working full-time jobs during the day but are struggling to make enough money to live on their own. If you see the homeless standing on the corner and want to give them money, Boughner says, “Take the money you would give them and donate in at the shelter because just $10 can pay for 5 meals. You could give them something tangible like a fast food meal or a coat. You don’t know if someone is an addict and you could be enabling their habit and buying their next dose which could lead to an overdose. Your heart could be in the right place.”
Right now in the kitchen at the men’s shelter, they have one part-time staff member who works between 24-28 hours per week. This person, however, is responsible for cooking 1,000 meals per week and that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You have to take into account that this is food for those residents in the shelter and it is food for those who live nearby the shelter out in the community who might need an extra meal so they stop in to eat. Melissa Boughner, director of the Rescue Mission says, “Volunteering at the shelter can be as easy as working a four-hour block each week. Sometimes this is as easy as being a welcome person at the men’s shelter which means you answer the phone and direct the call to wherever it needs to go within the shelter. Many older men who need something to do enjoy doing this.”
Many people see in the movies that families helping to serve food want to go out and do the same in their community. It isn’t just as easy as showing up on Thanksgiving day and serving food. If someone wants to volunteer their services on the holiday or anytime, they have to fill out an application and a background check is run, Boughner then gives a tour of the facility, and plugs you in where she believes your strengths are. Applications and background checks only take about a day to process and then it’s all on the volunteer and their schedule of when they can come in and take a tour and find the spot for them to work.
Boughner says, “A lot of people will call up the shelter on Thanksgiving day and say that their family is in town and would like to help serve dinner, but they never filled out the application. These are called are feel good volunteers who want to help the day of, but don’t bother filling out the application because it is too much work.” They have to have volunteers fill out these applications and have a background check done especially in their women’s and children’s shelter because they have women who need protection if they were in a domestic violence situation.
The face of homelessness is changing because the family structures entering the shelters are changing, a lot of the time it is teenagers as young as 18 who age out of the foster care system and need a place to go. Now there are also more veterans and grandparents with their grandkids. Parents of these kids are in prison or on the streets and grandparents want to keep their grandkids so they end up in the shelters with them. There are three main ways to get involved and help the Rescue Mission and they are to pray for the homeless population who are vulnerable and hurting, any kind of financial help goes a long way, and lastly volunteering and just 4 hrs/ week makes a huge difference. No matter who you are or what your schedule looks like you can give back even if it’s just offering thoughts and prayers to those who need it most.