Community brings Christmas cheer to those homeless for the holidays
New London — The 38 people waking up at New London's Homeless Hospitality Center this Christmas morning will have gifts to open and warm meals to enjoy, thanks to the generosity of the greater New London community.
But the most important gift, said the folks who work at the center, is simply knowing that their community cares.
This holiday season, the center on State Pier Road received dozens of donations from across the region that will help the agency make residents without permanent homes this Christmas feel a little more at home and let them know that some of the people who pass them on the street every day are there to help support them.
Over the past month, donors gave everyday items like deodorant, backpacks and headphones that allow guests to do simple things we may take for granted — like listen to music as they fall asleep, or carry their belongings in something other than a garbage bag.
Others donated what development manager Annah Perch called more "luxury items," including bath towels for former guests who are newly housed and settling in, or provided funds that help the center continue its mission of keeping those experiencing homelessness safe year-round.
These items, said Perch, help each guest in their day-to-day life and help staff "feel a little bit of relief, knowing they have the things they need to support our guests."
"These things just make everyone's lives easier," Perch said. "It's not necessarily about solving the problem of homelessness today but it's making the lives of everyone who is going through homelessness much more manageable today."
Perch said that when looking at the big picture, "Homelessness is everyone's problem. It takes a community, and when people find it in their hearts to do something to make a difference, it's very heartwarming."
This year, she said she spoke with one local couple who is forgoing gifts to each other and instead are donating to the center. A family will spend Christmas morning bringing brunch to the guests to help spread some Christmas cheer, while another dropped off "Christmas packs" filled with items that help make daily life less of a struggle. Two churches are providing lunch and dinner.
All of these gestures, Perch said, remind guests that they aren't alone.
Cathy Zall, executive director, added that each and every item makes life easier for the center's guests and staff, and the support from the community is an invaluable resource year-round.
"The things matter; the bath towels matter, coffee matters," she said. "But to me what's really the key thing is building relationships with people and having people who are going through a really hard time feeling like other people care."
Giving guests gifts to open on Christmas morning is one small way they get to send that message.
"Just to be able to deliver something to them is huge," Zall said. "The peoples' donations give us a chance to say your community cares about you."
The center has an Amazon wish list that allows donors to see exactly what items the shelter needs. Popular items include toothpaste, denture cream and headphones. Gift cards are always helpful, especially to stores like Walmart or Target or to inexpensive restaurants, such as fast food spots, near the shelter.
The wish list is still open for anyone who wishes to make a donation.
In Zall's words, the center "needs everything" from funding, to volunteers to donations. And the needs extend well past the holiday season.
"I hope people let their holiday spirit carry over, people are homeless 365 days a year, not just at Christmas," Zall said. "Whatever help people can offer is as important in December as it is in February and it is in July."