Twenty-three (23!) grade sixes. They all arrived at Knox United church one rainy Thursday morning to learn about Inn from the Cold and homelessness – all in one hour. These bright kids had already learned something about raising money for charities from their teacher (whew!) but she told us they had not been exposed to how volunteerism actually works.
Would we talk to them about Inn from the Cold, homelessness and being a volunteer? Of course.
A wise former elementary school teacher had alerted us that if we didn’t capture their attention in the first five minutes, we would lose them..
So we taught them the best we knew how, dividing them into teams and putting their hearts and hands to work as Knox Inn from the Cold volunteers.
One team was in charge of setting up beds and ensuring sheets and towels were in place. A clean-up team took everything down and put it away, while another team prepared a nutritious and budget conscious meal plan for 15+ homeless guests. The fourth team prepared 30 sandwiches for brown bag lunches and our final team set the tables for dinner and planned hospitality events for guests ranging in age from two to 72.
Adult volunteers and their teacher provided guidance throughout these tasks – however not much guidance was necessary.
The students eagerly set to work.
Our Inn is held in a big gymnasium and no one was standing idle. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a student who was carrying more pillows than he was tall – wearing a BIG grin. I mentioned to another young man that drinking glasses go to the right-hand-side of the plate. “Oh!” he said and quickly went around the table and corrected each one. I couldn’t help but think that his mom/dad would have been very proud if they had seen him. A young girl at the “making sandwiches” station commented about how much fun she was having as she carefully gathered together all the ingredients for a nutritious lunch. She admitted that she “hated” making her lunch at home and thought this experience might change her mind.
Twenty-three kids is a lot of kids to keep busy, and they had a LOT of questions.
- What about meal planning for vegetarians and vegans?
- What does ‘clean and sober’ mean, and what happens to people who were drunk (since we don’t take people into our Inn program if they are actively using)?
- Where are the sandwiches that they are making going to go that day?
- Where do the homeless babies sleep?
We learned a lot from them too.
We learned that young minds and hearts have a natural willingness to serve, and, given the chance and a few instructions, they are eager to make a difference in the life of a homeless person or family.
We all worked hard for that single hour and we all had fun. We would all do it again in a heartbeat.
Click here to read what the kids had to say about this in their own words.
Inn from the Cold began out of a community concern for the growing number of people in Calgary facing homelessness during the bitterly cold winter of 1996/97. Caring people from several inter-denominational churches met and in May 1997 the first church opened its doors to provide shelter and hope to Calgary’s homeless families and others in need. In 2008 the Inn purchased a building and opened Calgary’s first Emergency Family Shelter. Today, their work is still augmented by over 2,500 volunteers from churches and the Calgary community.