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REACH shelter opens for the winter

November 07, 1999

By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

Photo by RICHARD T. MEAGHER / Staff Photographer


United by a sense of compassion for the homeless, more than 25 people of different faiths gathered at St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown on Sunday.

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The group was part of an interfaith ceremony opening the annual cold weather shelter sponsored by the Religious Effort to Assist and Care for Homeless People and Washington County congregations.

For the second year, the shelter will be located at the site of the former Cannon Shoe Factory at 148 W. Franklin St. It will operate through April.

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The Rev. Valerie T. Wills of the Unitarian Universalist Church conducted the ceremony and led the group in singing folk songs.

"We're here to celebrate what we share together- and that's a community," said Terri L. Baker, director of REACH Inc.

Last year, the shelter fed and housed 300 people, which shows the need for service, Baker said.

When it was established in 1996, the shelter served 12 adults a night. The second year twice that number were coming in every night.

"There are people in real need without a place to stay or food to eat," she said.

Not everyone who comes to the shelter is homeless. Some are employed at minimum wage and can't make ends meet, she said.

"We see people here just because they're hungry. They have enough to pay the rent but can't fill the cupboards," she said.

Following Baker's comments was a lighting of candles by six attendees and readings from the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, American Indian, Christian and Jewish faiths.

Cheryl Moyer Walkley, executive director of Washington County Community Action Council Inc., asked the group to "imagine looking for work after spending a night out on the streets."

"You smell, your clothes are a mess and you have no address to put on an application," she said.

To help homeless people overcome such obstacles, the shelter's services include hot meals, hygiene items, blankets, cots, showers, laundry assistance, mail/telephone service, helping them contact social service agencies and sometimes giving them money. The shelter is intended for adult men and women.

The shelter operates from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday; from 7 p.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday; and 3 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday. It's staffed by trained volunteers each night in two shifts.

Professional security is on site throughout the night.

Donations of money and clothing are needed, said Baker.

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