The Martinsville-Henry County Warming Center is seeking volunteers as operations get underway for the season.
The center operated at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, 725 Beechnut Lane, Martinsville, offers those experiencing homelessness a warm place to spend the night during the winter months. Guests receive a warm meal each night, hot or to-go breakfast in the mornings, a tote for bedding and supplies, and more.
“We also will connect our guests with any community resources that they may need. We’ve had great success in the past seasons with helping many, many of our guests find permanent housing and work and that’s something that we’re really proud of and something that we strive to do each season,” said Hailey Roberson, co-director of operations for the center.
The center prides itself on being a “low barrier” shelter, “which means come as you are. We will welcome you with open arms. We have some intake paperwork, but guests are free to give us as much or as little information as possible. We don’t want anyone to be turned away because they feel uncomfortable,” Roberson said.
The center began “as a collaboration between Salvation Army and some local churches, and has continued to be a collaboration of several local churches,” she said. In addition to Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, it is supported by Community Fellowship of Martinsville, which offers facilities for storage and guest access to the Clothes Closet; First Baptist Church of Martinsville, which often provides storage and transportation; and Holy Trinity Church of Martinsville, which often provides meals.
The center also offers transportation from the Martinsville Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests may opt to return to the library at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The center opens at 7 p.m. and closes at 8 a.m.
Operating days are dependent on the weather.
“Our first opening night will be November 1, and then we will be able to be open any night that the temperature will be 35 degrees or below, from November the first until May. That final ending date will be determined, of course, by weather,” Roberson said.
However, to fulfill its mission, the center desperately needs volunteers. Without the proper number of volunteers for each position, the center cannot operate for the night regardless of the temperature. There are several different ways to volunteer.
The first is transportation, which is often filled by a church or church group. It can, however, be fulfilled by any individual with an adequate vehicle. Both evening and morning shifts are needed.
“We offer pick up to our guests from the Martinsville Library, then they’re brought to the church and then in the morning, we drop them off again at the Martinsville Library,” Roberson said.
Volunteers also can provide meals for guests. Those who want to fulfill this role are asked to bring a meal that can serve about 30 people.
“There are so many wonderful people and organizations in the community that donate meals to our guests. That’s just cooking a meal at home and bringing it to the church so that we can serve it to our guests,” Roberson said.
The center also accepts donations to help provide breakfast.
“We also offer breakfast in the mornings before our guests leave the facility. We do both hot breakfast as well as to go breakfast items. So, any breakfast items are always a welcome donation,” she said.
There is also a need for volunteers to cover the intake position. This role operates from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and is responsible for check in, getting the totes to guests, serving dinner, and helping guests get settled.
“This is at the church, interacting with guests, welcoming them as they arrive, and helping them get their things settled for the evenings,” Roberson said.
The last position, the overnight shift, is the most challenging to fill. The shift is from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., and the volunteer is responsible for overseeing guests throughout the night and helping to get breakfast served the next morning, usually around 6 or 7 a.m.
“We would like for three people to be there for the overnight shift so that one person can be awake and alert just in case there’s a person who needs to be brought into the center after hours, or if our guests have questions or have a need, someone’s there to take care of that,” Roberson said.
The center will offer a volunteer training session at the TAD Space in Martinsville.
“Individuals who are interested in learning how to get involved, they’ll just get a brief overview of what each of the positions look like and how they would fulfill that position to see which position might be most comfortable for them and be able to ask and have any questions that they have answered,” Roberson said.
However, the in person training session is not required.
“There is a virtual training option so anyone who is not able to attend the trainings can also be trained virtually. There’s a slideshow presentation and then a brief quiz just to check for understanding of the main concepts,” Roberson said.
She encourages anyone who is unsure about volunteering to shadow some of the current volunteers.
“If someone is interested in volunteering, but is still a little on the fence about what it might look like, they’re always welcome to visit the center,” she said. “We have some wonderful, wonderful volunteers who are willing to sort of shadow new volunteers and help them get acquainted with how things operate so we’re not just throwing them in blind.”
Volunteer sign ups, donation lists, operating schedules, and more information can be found on the center’s Facebook page, or by calling (276) 207-9660. Donations may be brought to Community Fellowship Church, 2674 Virginia Avenue Collinsville.