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Congregations throughout the Greater Williamsburg area will receive additional support from shelter managers this winter when they open their doors to the homeless as part of the fourth annual Community of Faith Mission.
The emergency shelter program, which serves homeless men, women and children, will begin Sunday and continue through March 22.
Members of the 32 participating congregations volunteer to prepare meals and offer fellowship to the shelter guests, with some of the congregations hosting the overnight shelters in their buildings on a rotating basis.
The participating congregations are located in Williamsburg, James City County and Upper York County.
Renee Collins, co-president of the shelter ministry, said 109 different individual guests were served at the shelter during the 2014-2015 program, a 27 percent increase over the 2013-2014 program, possibly due to a snowier winter. A maximum of 25 people can be served each night at the shelter and many stay on for weeks at a time, Collins said.
“The shelter guests are always just so grateful to have their basic needs met,” Collins said. “We’ve had people come from living out in the woods or in their cars and they’re always grateful to have a place that’s safe for them to spend the night as well as food.”
New this year is the hiring of two part-time shelter managers, Kris Magnusson and Kim Scott, who will be on site every night of the shelter program, Collins said.
“The shelter manager provides support to partners, maintains consistency at all times and makes sure safety and security protocols are followed,” Collins said.
While all volunteers must come through the participating congregations, community members can support the program attending fundraising events and organizing donation drives.
Warm Up Williamsburg, a soup-tasting fundraiser for the program, will be held Jan. 29. Attendees can taste soup prepared by local restaurants and enjoy musical entertainment from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Williamsburg United Methodist Church.
All proceeds go to pay for the program’s operational costs. The ministry raised $6,000 during last year’s fundraiser.
Collins said youth groups are planning a donation drive of travel-sized toiletries, which will be used to prepare hygiene kits for guests.
While the program is part of a faith-based ministry, Collins said religion is not forced onto any guests. Some congregations offer an optional bible study and provide entertainment, showers and even haircuts to guests.
Collins said the ministry is grateful for its community partners, which support the program by laundering sheets, providing paper products and donating showers.
“We have so many exceptional partners that help us throughout the year,” Collins said. “It really does take a lot of really good community partnership to run the program.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the program can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.