The recent snow was exciting for many of us, but what about if you're homeless? Julia Faire writes about a recent day at the Coventry Jesus Centre.
Waking up to a world covered in a blanket of white never loses its magic. It’s Sunday morning, 7:30am, not even light yet but I’m out there, wellies on, snow falling on my face and a crisp, three inch layer underfoot. The usually busy street is quiet and the park is covered in untouched snow.
In the semi-darkness, I hear a distant cough. A man is rising from ‘his bed’ in the corner of the park – perhaps not enjoying the snowy morning as much as me.
It’s 9:15am on Monday and the doors are opening at the Coventry Jesus Centre. What would we do without our donation of blankets? We especially love the multi-coloured, lovingly-knitted ones from some of our older donors. Simon, who works here, has put out a table of wares in the lobby – blankets, scarves and a sign saying “Please help yourself”.
Usually, ambulances take people to hospital, but today, the paramedics are bringing a somewhat disoriented young man to the Jesus Centre. They’re not bringing him in for medical aid but for some warmth and refreshments. They must have found him freezing cold somewhere in the city. Now he’s enjoying a cup of coffee and some breakfast.
It’s 9:30am and one of our ESOL students appears. He’s always the first to arrive and he generally comes laden with bags (a tell-tell sign that he has nowhere to sleep). The kettle is on again; early starters in the class are always welcome to a drink. I ask him if he has somewhere to sleep and am relieved to hear that the Red Cross have helped him out.
I have a new student today. I find out he is from Eritrea and he is rubbing his hands with the cold. The kettle is on again.
“Gina! Gina! Have we any gloves?” I call.
Gina is one of our volunteers who sorts out clothing. She knows where everything is at the Jesus Centre. She obliges with some gloves, a hat and a warmer coat. What would we do without people’s generosity?
My next student arrives. He always used to arrive late – sometimes ten minutes before the end of the class. I discovered in conversation one day that he had no way of knowing the time – no watch, no mobile, no clock. Again, Gina produced one. You should have seen the look of pure pleasure on his face when I handed it to him. He has been coming regularly and on time since then. I find out that now that he also needs gloves, a warm hat and scarf.
A few minutes later… oh dear! Gina is running in to the hall (our classroom):
“Has he gone!? I’ve given him Darren’s hat and gloves by mistake!” (Darren is one of our volunteers.)
I race outside on to the icy street – too late – he’s gone.
“We’re so, so sorry, Darren!” We both say. “We’ll find you some more!” Darren is very gracious. All in a day’s volunteering – to go home wearing a different hat and scarf.
On the way home I pop into our local chemist. The assistant, well-known to me, is just putting up her Christmas decorations.
“You know your centre in town?” she says, “Do you need any blankets? Any gloves, hats, scarves – anything warm? I’ll be around with some things.”
“Fantastic!” I say. “Thank you so, so much.”
It’s 5pm now. I step out of the warm chemist. It’s going to freeze really hard tonight. What will tomorrow bring? It will be, for certain, a busy day at the Jesus Centre but that table of blankets is waiting – and our hot breakfasts, showers, our box of gloves and scarves will make a difference to many people – thanks to our generous friends!