January 16, 2024 at 12:05 a.m.
Guest Columnist

Room in the Inn

TAMMY WILSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Room In The Inn Offers Warm Welcome To Those Down On Their Luck

By the time you read this, I will be getting ready to deliver dinner to the cold-weather emergency shelter in Newton.

I don’t mean to sound braggy. I’m not the most caring or generous person, but given the chance to lend a hand, I’m willing to pitch in, especially on bitter-cold nights, when I think of people bedding down in their car or in tents and sleeping bags camped under trees. Or folks who’ve run out of home heating fuel, I try to imagine what it would be like if there was no such thing as Room in the Inn.

Room in the Inn, began several years ago as a community outreach of First Presbyterian Church of Newton. These days the shelter operates on the ground level of First United Methodist Church, 300 N. Main Ave. When temperatures fall below 25, the doors are open for anyone who needs a warm place to spend the night.

Guests enjoy a hot meal at 7 p.m. They may also stay overnight, and have breakfast before the facility closes at 8:15 a.m. There is no charge to stay.

It takes a variety of volunteers to keep things going. The coordinator, Dr. Shannon Sherfey, notifies volunteers by email if there’s a forecast of a cold night. Individuals are invited to sign up.

The evening or “hen” shift stays with the guests until 10 p.m. when overnight “owls” arrive. At 6 a.m., “roosters” show up with breakfast and close down the shelter for the day.

Cooks such as myself are asked to provide enough for 12. The number of guests varies, and they aren’t necessarily adults. Several years ago, a transient family with young children was brought to the shelter by a law enforcement officer. If I remember correctly, their car had broken down on the highway and they couldn’t afford to stay at a hotel. Room in the Inn was truly a godsend for them.

There is no prescribed menu, so I imagine what I might appreciate if I were a shelter guest. Comfort food makes sense, and I think how if I hadn’t eaten in a while, I might want seconds.

I’m not a chef and have never worked in a restaurant, so I prepare basic fare. My menu on Tuesday night: chicken noodle casserole with green beans, coleslaw and hot rolls. Last week, I brought chili mac. But it’s perfectly fine to bring fast food or something from the deli.  

Everything must be transportable, which takes a bit of planning. So far, I’ve managed to make it from my kitchen to the church without spilling anything, which is no small miracle.

But Room in the Inn isn’t just about food. Some volunteers set up the cots, visit with the guests and supervise. Others arrive in the early morning hours to straighten up and close down the shelter. All of the work is necessary and important.

When I think of the value of Room in the Inn, I think of the story of the starfish:

An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a person in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer, he was that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but reaching down to the sane, pickup up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the surf.

“Young lady,” he called. “Why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?”

She replied. “The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

“But young lady, don’t you realize that there are miles of beach and starfish all along it? You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The young woman listened politely, then paused and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves.

“It made a difference for that one.”

[Lincoln Herald addendum: Tammy's story is about one of many charities that work to improve life for those seeing hard times.  In Lincolnton, Hesed House of Hope serves as Lincoln County's only homeless shelter, providing much the same services as Room in the Inn does in Newton.  Next Tuesday (Jan. 23rd) will be an important day for Hesed House; it's the day for the annual Homeless Person in Time Count.  Volunteers are needed for this annual project to determine the numbers of homeless persons in our county. (Similar counts will happen across the country.)  

---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book is “Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World” (Redhawk Publications), a compilation of essays from this column.

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