Seibert REACHes out to the homeless

December 22, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


Editor's note: This is the eighth story in a 10-part series about people who make this holiday season brighter for others. The series concludes Christmas Eve.

One midnight clear, the holidays could force the REACH shelter to close because of a shortage of volunteers.

Just don't look for it to happen on Claire Seibert's watch.

One of about 40 volunteers at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter, Seibert this year is responsible for finding enough staff members to work the days before and after Christmas. She said she gave up her last two Christmases to volunteer for REACH, which stands for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless.

"I like helping out. I like making a difference in somebody's life, especially these guys," Seibert, 41, said shortly before the shelter opened its doors to homeless men and women on a recent Monday night.


Rows of about 40 cots covered with mismatched blankets line the men's dormitory area at the shelter. Clear, plastic bags stuffed full of clean bedding waited to be sorted, folded and restocked on huge metal shelves in the dormitory.

The shelter's doors normally open at 7 p.m., and guests may sign in until 9 p.m., though dinner is served until only 8:30 p.m., Seibert said.

A note left on one bed stated one guest would be a little late.

The note read: "Please Reserve this bunk current occupant is working and will be in after 9 p.m."

In the four or five years since Seibert began volunteering at the shelter, she said she has learned not to judge people by their appearances. The mother of an 8-year-old girl and an infant boy, Seibert recently returned to school from maternity leave. She has taken both children to the shelter to meet friends she has made there.

"There's just a lot of regular people here. Because of the way they're dressed, or they may smell, or they may be dirty, that's no reason to treat them any different from the way I might treat you," Seibert said.

Shelter guests and volunteers joked and carried on with Seibert as she talked, an easy rapport evident from years of sharing stories of the streets.

A former shelter guest, Randy Shoemaker, said the hospitality of volunteers did not make stays at the shelter any more enticing.

"I'm getting older, I'm 48 years old, and I don't need to be out there," Shoemaker said as the night's guests stamped the cold from their feet and reported to the kitchen area for hot meals.

After being homeless "many years," Shoemaker was back at the shelter Monday - this time as a volunteer.

Shoemaker now works construction, he said.

Seibert said she is inspired by the stories of people who pick themselves up, find work and are able to leave the shelter. This year, men who once stayed at the shelter as guests - as Shoemaker did for about four months - will serve holiday meals to the homeless, Seibert said.

The adviser of a Student Government Association service committee, Seibert said students who volunteered in a shelter kitchen one year saw firsthand the devastation wrought by addiction and alcohol abuse. They also witnessed the humanity of people others often dismiss, she said.

"Like I teach my kids at school, you treat people with respect, you get it back, and it's the same with anyone, no matter their lifestyle or what they look like," Seibert said.

Friday: Beth Plume of Hagerstown

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