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  • James Massey sat at the foot of his cot at Temple Beth Shalom.
    Photo by Maya Pottiger
    James Massey sat at the foot of his cot at Temple Beth Shalom.
  • (Left to right) Carlester “Barbershop” Allen, Bernard Tyler Jr., Christina Church, Jodi Meisenberg, Steven Lileks and Erich Lerner socialized at Temple Beth Shalom before dinner.
    Photo by Maya Pottiger
    (Left to right) Carlester “Barbershop” Allen, Bernard Tyler Jr., Christina Church, Jodi Meisenberg, Steven Lileks and Erich Lerner socialized at Temple Beth Shalom before dinner.

Temple Beth Shalom Hosts Winter Relief Every Christmas

Maya Pottiger
Maya Pottiger's picture
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January 9, 2018

In Its Sixth Year Participating, Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold Hosted 30 Guests In December

Since 1992, the Arundel House of Hope, through its Winter Relief program, has provided shelter for those stuck outside in the cold.

The program runs for 26 weeks from October to April. Every week, different sites rotate host duties.

The program requires guests to be at least 18 years old, and they cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, must not have outstanding warrants and cannot be on the national sex offender registry, said Winter Relief Program Director Pam Biddlecomb.

Jodi Meisenberg is a site coordinator. She runs the Winter Relief program at Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold, which hosted the Annapolis group from December 18 to December 26.

Temple Beth Shalom is the only synagogue to participate in the Winter Relief program.

Meisenberg was a volunteer with the Arundel House of Hope for two years before Temple Beth Shalom joined the program. This allowed her to help facilitate the project and take on the role of site coordinator.

“I read a notice in the newspaper seeking volunteers for a winter relief program, and I thought it would be an interesting project,” Meisenberg said.

Temple Beth Shalom hosts 30 guests, and those same guests show up to each location, Meisenberg said. If people don’t check in for the day at the intake center, their spots are given to people on the waitlist.

Once a guest gets to the shelter, his or her bed is reserved for the whole season unless he or she doesn’t show up or doesn’t follow the rules, Biddlecomb said.

“These are people who tend to live in Annapolis and, for the most part, are situationally homeless,” Meisenberg said. “Let’s say they lose their job and they lose their income and they can’t afford to pay rent or pay for gas for their car or their insurance, and they wind up in a situation where they are homeless.”

Guests at Temple Beth Shalom are provided with fresh sheets, pillows and blankets to put on their cots that travel with them to the different locations. They are served three meals a day: a hot breakfast, a bagged lunch and a hot dinner.

In addition to the meals and lodging, guests are given a number of amenities: shower service; clothing, such as coats, hats and scarves; laundry; toiletries; transportation for those who have jobs; and, on occasion, dental services.

There is also a “living room” set up in the synagogue with couches and a TV so guests can relax and watch the news. Guests also have access to a computer. One guest is studying for his driver’s license and uses the computer to do practice questions, Meisenberg said.

“Mostly what we offer them above and beyond all that is fellowship,” Meisenberg said. “I would say, an ear of people to talk to and help them through the very difficult Christmas week.”

Guests leave in the morning, and then the process starts over at night. Guests are picked up each evening at the House of Hope Day Center in Glen Burnie or the intake center in Annapolis, Biddlecomb said.

“However, the Temple always hosts on Christmas,” Meisenberg said. “For Christmas Eve and Christmas day, the guests are allowed to stay in the whole day and the whole night.”

Those who volunteer with the Temple’s Winter Relief program often feel the program is more rewarding for them than the guests, Meisenberg said. As the guests are from the Annapolis area, their stories are a reminder of how quickly things can change.

“It helps us to be aware of the struggle of the people in our community,” Meisenberg said. “They become not just homeless people but real people with faces and names.”

Another option for relief from the cold is through the Anne Arundel County Office of Emergency Management, which periodically offers warming centers during the winter months.

When the weather drops below 20 degrees, whether that’s the temperature or with wind chill, the office opens a warming center at one of the county departments, Emergency Management planner Chrissy Comwell said.

These warming centers are open to everyone. It is asked that children are always supervised, and only service animals are allowed inside, not pets.

The office’s partners, like House of Hope, receive press releases to post in their facilities about when and where the warming centers will be. The locations are also put out on social media. Different organizations notify the “vulnerable population” of the locations, as well, Comwell said.

The Office of Emergency Management also offers cooling centers during the warm months to offer relief from the heat.

Those who want to volunteer or donate to the Arundel House of Hope should call 410-863-4888.

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