Deb Gray More than 15,000 volunteers from 160 congregations around Richmond provide shelter to men, women, and children who are in trouble. These volunteers do much more than provide a place to sleep. They are a bridge for people on their journey back to self sufficiency.
River Road Church Baptist has been providing shelter to CARITAS clients for more than 20 years. Deb Gray has been an integral part of this effort for nearly as long.
“They were asking for volunteers to help CARITAS set up the fellowship hall as a home for a week,” Deb remembers, “so I signed up!”
Today, Deb and Hilary Blanchard are the “key volunteers” at River Road Church. This means that they are responsible for recruiting and organizing 150-200 volunteers who help turn their fellowship hall into a shelter twice every year—one week in February and one week in October.
Congregation volunteers provide three meals a day, set up cots and bedding, arrange for laundry , and provide a variety of services and experiences that make guests feel comfortable during their stay. While the CARITAS volunteer manual and CARITAS staff provide the basics to help host congregations open their doors, many personalize the experience.
Deb offers haircuts to the men, children perform songs for the guests, Richmond Neighborhood Laundry does almost 50 bags of laundry each week, HandCraft Cleaners donates towels, and volunteers offer manicures, pedicures and basic sewing services for guests at River Road. One group of members led by Eleanor Burns recently knitted and gave scarves to the men who stayed with them in October. Another group led by Anita McAllister handmade pillowcases for men and women guests. Twenty-four hours a day for one week, the entire congregation joins together to create a home where they listen to the stories of men and women and give them the safe space they need to overcome crisis and make plans for their futures.
“We’re not here to change them or to invade their space, we are here to listen,” Deb said. “When you get to this level—to crisis—you don’t think that anyone cares, no one wants to hear your story. It can change a life when you let someone know that you care.”
Deb’s church also collects furniture for the CARITAS Furniture Bank and Gathered Goods Marketplace.
“I get so much from this experience,” Deb said. “The strength I see is these families, I don’t know that I could be that strong. I admire them all so much.”
Each week, three different congregations around the city host shelter sites for unaccompanied men, unaccompanied women, and families. Other congregations offer their space as intake sites. Still others are collecting items to be used in these shelters and other CARITAS programs. United by their compassion, congregations like River Road and volunteers like Deb help our most vulnerable neighbors feel at home. CARITAS is grateful to all of its volunteers. Thank you for changing lives with us!