“Thank you for just seeing us as human beings,” a resident at Latrobe Street Mission told me this after sharing dinner together. This was my first experience serving dinner there and it changed me, deeply.

For years I thought about serving a meal at a homeless mission/shelter. Each year around this time (close to Thanksgiving and my birthday) I would think about how I wanted to give back to my community in some way – but something would always get in the way, and the next thing I’d know another year would have passed and my internal conversation would start, again. And there I was, staring at a Facebook post this past spring where a friend of mine shared she was preparing for her group’s monthly serving opportunity at Latrobe. I felt this was my “sign” – I knew my friend (who was already involved, serving in a way I wanted to serve) and it couldn’t be so difficult to do it right (especially when I wasn’t alone), could it?

Yet I felt inadequate to help. I wasn’t a part of a church volunteer group. I wondered: “didn’t you have to be a church group to do something like this?” What if I wasn’t “experienced” enough? My doubt kept me from helping still. What if I panicked? What if I broke down and started crying in front of everyone, feeling sad for the state of homelessness in our community? Or what if I just couldn’t face the fact that we had so many homeless all around us, who were facing challenges, were hungry, and needed someone to help them? Could I really help them? Still, the thought that this was my chance to finally serve didn’t leave me.

The stories were varied. Some were just passing through town, some were in the middle of a job search, while others were simply struggling right now and needed a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen. But they were all human beings and I fell in love with all of them.

Latrobe0007The following month, I’d had weeks to stir up my courage and I purchased a case of bottled water for the dinner. Once I got there and saw the families, the kind faces, the hurting faces, the people who would light up when you sat down next to them and just talked about whatever they wanted to share – I didn’t want to leave. The stories were varied. Some were just passing through town, some were in the middle of a job search, while others were simply struggling right now and needed a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen. But they were all human beings and I fell in love with all of them.

It’s been almost 3 years since the Latrobe Street Mission has officially opened its doors to their first 6 residents. Since opening, they have helped 38 families get back out into the world, overcoming their homeless challenges, and continue to house an average of 70-85 people every night. In 2014, the harsh winter brought the Mission to push for 24-hour open doors, accepting the people who needed them. When the summer also brought intense heat, the all-hours continued on. And while thinking of the doors being open, though the Mission thrives under community support, it’s been emphasized to me that there was never a concern that the shelter was closing – only that the donations given by the community (through time, skills, money, and contributions to the Twice is Good Thrift Shop) are what “keeps the Mission going.”

Yes, we as the community can help in so many ways. Volunteers are needed for serving meals, true. But if you are able to volunteer in other ways, the need is there. Serving meals is just one way the homeless residents (and those who offer them shelter and support) can be helped. There is also a need for assistance with the Mission’s building/mechanical repairs, cleaning and maintenance are always area where volunteers are needed, and help is also always appreciated, sorting donated clothing/items for the Mission thrift shop: Twice is Good (overseen by Steve & Sandy). Bob, one of the friendly staff members at the mission, shared with me the awesome recycling program Latrobe Street Mission is a part of: Not only are all clothing donations sorted for store sales and recycling use, but he (and Mark – head fella on staff at the Mission) mentioned that even when “well worn” clothing is donated, it’s often sorted to be used as rags. Many nicer items make their way to the Twice is Good store (located at the 19th St. side of the Mission building), while many more items are baled into 1000+Lb blocks, sold to a company who ships the clothing to other homeless Americans, as well as many 3rd world countries – sharing the donations so as not to store excessive piles of clothing on site. Latrobe even works with other local thrift shops, collecting the surplus of the other shops to recycle in the same way. The thrift store sales from the recycling program, as well as sales of store items, help to fund the Latrobe Street Mission.

Clutch0004While clothing and most items are always accepted at Twice is Good during designated drop off hours (M-F, 10-4), donations can also be picked up by Bob, by calling the store to arrange a pick up appointment. Gently used furniture and clothing (minimum of 10 bags of clothing for pick up, please), working appliances, kitchen wares, home decor, and a variety of other items are happily accepted. But please, no televisions and/or bedding (mattresses). For pick ups, please call 304-893-9017 or 304-893-9460 and ask for Bob.

Something important to note as December approaches: During the winter months, the Mission also has a rack of free winter coats, always available, to anyone who is in need. If you know of anyone who needs a warm coat for the winter, please let them know about the free winter coat rack at Latrobe Street Mission.

The ways Latrobe gives back to the community and their residents doesn’t stop, there. In addition to the clothing services being offered through Twice is Good and the Mission, there is an information center on-site for its residents, which includes resources from the DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources), Veterans’ Affairs, and Westbrook Health Center. While the primary focus of Latrobe Street Mission, and all they do, is to provide shelter for our area’s homeless, they also are focused on helping their residents find their way back out of their struggles. Mark and Greg, both extensively involved in the success of the Mission today, are also focused on reinforcing the faith-based environment of their services. They start (and end) every day at the Mission with prayer. It’s the verses of Matthew 25:35-40 that bring focus for Mark (and the staff at the Mission)-these verses share words of how those who were hungry were fed, those who needed warmth, clothing, were cared for. But outside of the start and end of the day, Latrobe also encourages the availability and power of prayer at all times at the Mission, setting up a prayer room on-site, available to anyone who may want/need prayer, resident or non-resident alike, at any time.

One evening serving dinner with the residents helped me to see I wasn’t unqualified in any way to serve. I was there for them, providing space for them to be cared for and seen as the humans that they are.

I wondered, with this base in Christian faith, how I could be involved in serving if I wasn’t part of a church volunteer group. While the overall message of scripture, prayer and faith is interwoven into all that is offered through Latrobe Street Mission, their message is also about loving your neighbor – a universal way of loving those around you, and caring about their well-being. One evening serving dinner with the residents helped me to see I wasn’t unqualified in any way to serve. I was there for them, providing space for them to be cared for and seen as the humans that they are. And every month, I can’t wait to go back. I always leave more grounded, grateful and ready to return than when I arrived. And each month, those feelings grow stronger.

The group I volunteer with is actually not church-specific. We’re a group of people from different towns, communities, churches and groups. But we come together each month and serve, together. There is no restriction on your group being a church group to offer service. Women’s clubs, Crafters’/Social Clubs, Mom’s groups, Scouts, Teams, etc., are all welcome to sign up for a time slot in the meal serving calendar. And if you’d like to see what available time slots are left on the calendar, check it out here.

As a matter of fact, if you see a group you recognize on the calendar, and would like to offer to volunteer with them, please contact them do so. I’m personally involved with the friends of Emmaus (Emaus), and we’re always looking for friendly people to serve with us. Any age is welcome to volunteer (under 18 with a guardian, please). If you would prefer, the staff at Latrobe are also happy to mail a paper copy of the current month’s calendar to you, if you give them a call (304-893-9460). It doesn’t show what’s needed per meal, though. So if you’d like to contribute to a certain group or type of meal, please contact the Mission for more details.

If you’d prefer to help by donating to the Mission pantry, donations are always accepted during open Mission hours (M-S, 10-5). The breakfast portion of the pantry is especially in need of packaged, non-perishable items like breakfast pastries, cereal bars, granola bars, etc.

If you’d prefer to donate care items, the following are always needed: Laundry Soap, Rubber Gloves, Trash Bags (13 and 45 G), Cleaners (floors, toilet and shower), Rubbing Alcohol, Paper Products (coffee cups, paper towels, bowls), Coffee, Sugar, Creamer, and Instant meals (easy mac, soup, ramen, ravioli). Once the commercial kitchen (currently under construction) is completed, other foods will be more easily cooked on-site. But for now, these are the most helpful items that can be donated.

Latrobe Street Mission’s Facebook page also lists current needs on a continual basis. For latest needs, you can always check, there. To check out their story, their services, and many other details, please check out the Latrobe Street Mission’s website and their Facebook page. While the shelter is available 24 hours/day, the main office hours are Monday-Saturday, 10-5. Twice is Good thrift shop is open (and available for store donations) Monday-Friday, 10-4.

The Twice is Good thrift shop also has its own Facebook page.

Both the Mission and Twice is Good are located at 1304 19th St., Parkersburg

Twice is Good: 304-893-9249

Latrobe Street Mission: 304-893-9460