Our Lady of the Valley Parish
33 Adams Street  Easthampton  MA  01027  (413) 527 - 9778
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Cot Shelter Annex

The Overflow Cot Annex
opened again on November 19th and will remain open until March. Below is the presentation given by Mike Biegner, Social Justice Commitee Chair, on Shelter Sunday giving more background to this program;

Talk For Oct 14th Plea for Help for Cot Shelter (Shelter Sunday Weekend 10/14/2012-10/15/2012)

Good AFTERNOON/MORNING. My name is Mike Biegner and I am the coordinator of the Easthampton Annex of the Interfaith Cot Shelter of Northampton, here at OLV.

To coincide with Shelter Sunday going on in this weekend in Northampton which is raising money and awareness about homelessness, I would like to talk to you today about our “Cot shelter program” here at OLV. The good thing is I stand here today NOT asking for your money so you can relax. However, I am asking for something far more valuable: Your time, your prayers, your interest.

The opening night of the Interfaith Homeless Shelter in Northampton, November 1, 2005 was very cold.  The staff had to turn people away. Yvonne Freccero, founder of the Northampton shelter, called around, looking for some place to take the overflow of homeless men.  The pastor of then Immaculate Conception parish offered them the use of the parish hall, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, a team of volunteers came forward and on January 10th the Easthampton Annex opened.

With six beds, and a corps of cooks, the Annex took in the overflow, night after night. The men were provided a safe, warm place, a home cooked meal, and genial conversation with members of the parish.

When OLV opened its doors, it brought the tradition of the Cot Shelter with it and this year we will be starting our eighth season.

But I want to give you a glimpse of what happens down in that hall between the months of November and March.  Many of you who attend evening Mass on Saturday or Sundays  during these months have probably smelled the home cooking wafting up from downstairs.

The Cot Shelter Annex exists to take in the overflow of homeless men from the Northampton shelter for every night of the week during the months of November through March.

The men who come over from the Northampton shelter are carefully screened by Danielle Deberry, of ServiceNet, to provide guests and OLV volunteers the most positive experience. They are driven over from Northampton by Willie Ledbetter and the other volunteers of “We Soldier On”, a Veteran support organization.

We have groups of Volunteers – folks just like you – in teams of at least 2 sometimes more – for each  night – to prepare a meal  and serve it.

We volunteers prepare a hot, protein-rich meal at home, bring it into the kitchen about 5:30PM, then heat the food up in the kitchen downstairs. The men arrive around 5:45, where they sign in, and set up their things around one of the six cots for them.  We serve the food and then prepare dishes for ourselves, and then we sit around 2 or 3 round tables, where we share stories, often talking about news of the day, and getting to know each other.  

Afterwards, we clean up, and the men watch a little TV, or some of them turn in early for the night. The men have their chores to do. They sign contracts at the start of the season agreeing to certain behaviors. They must clean around their cots in the morning.

Now, if you offer to volunteer to cook a meal once a month, I will promise you one thing: you will never cook for a more grateful audience.  Our guests are so thankful for the home cooked meal, but more for a chance to socialize, for a chance to be seen and heard after being out on the street, in the cold.

Now to be sure it may seem scary at first, to put ourselves in the presence of these homeless men. I mean we don’t really know what to expect – this is not a normal thing to do: to provide hospitality for someone we don’t know but who is suffering. But the conversations are friendly, cordial and often educational. And this is the face of Jesus. This is what the Gospel calls us to do.

Before my two girls went off to college, they would join my wife and me to help prepare and serve the meals.  If you have a family with teenagers, there is no better way to teach your Catholic faith to your children than by showing them. James reminds us:  What use is it if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? This is a dead faith. I am offering you a chance to serve God – where are you going to get a better job offer than that?

Won’t you please consider helping out?  You can be part of a team that cooks one night a month to feed and have dinner with our guests. If you cannot spare the time, perhaps you would like to supply a meal, and have one of our other volunteers serve? Or maybe you can help out one of our kitchen angels in the mornings, making sure things are ready each day for our visitors. And yes, if you want to, you can even make a monetary donation.

In the bulletin this week there is a checklist if you want more information. Please take a moment to fill it out and drop it in any collection basket. And if you know of anyone who you think might be interested – they don’t even have to be a member of this parish – this is an INTERFAITH shelter after all – please spread the word.

I know the problems of this world can seem overwhelming and sometimes we just don’t know can be done. Mother Teresa would tell us we must “do what is in front of us.”  Well, today I am putting the Cot Shelter front in center, square in front of each one of you.

Join us in lighting the darkness, instead of cursing it.  Come live out your faith, and witness the miracle that is love.

Please pray for us and thank you for all that you do to support the poor, and the homeless of the area here at OLV.

Upper left: Pat Coon, Paula Caouette, Ann Lapointe, Fr Doug (OLV pastor) and Nancy Strycharz chat while waiting for the guests to arrive.
Upper right: Ann Lapointe, Pat Coon, Sylvia Gallagher, Paula Caouette, and Tess Perterson prepare tonight's meal (meat loaf with all the fixings).
Lower photos show the TV veiwing area and the 6 available cots with storage bins.