It’s been three years since my daughter and I first ventured into the Out Of The Cold program. We were looking for a volunteer effort that we could both do together. And we wanted the opportunity to work in a team setting.

So we signed on for Out Of The Cold. We don’t have an affiliation to one particular church, so we really selected our work site based on our personal schedules and we were assigned to Monday nights at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. We went to a training day where program organizers took us through the philosophy of the Out Of The Cold program.

It was useful since the guests being served at the program are a population base that I haven’t worked with before. We learned not to be nervous. We learned about poverty. We learned about “marginalized” people, people who work hard but whose income just covers their rent. Out Of The Cold is their only source of food.

We learned how to approach people, how to have a conversation, how to prepare and serve meals. We learned about the teams of people who work one of four shifts per day in order to offer the full program. There are the meal servers and dish doers on the 5 to 8 pm shift. Then there are the visitors and entertainers from 8 to 11 pm. The overnight shift runs from 11 pm to 6 am. And the breakfast shift takes over and finishes at 8 am.

All tolled, with each volunteer working only one evening per month, the program needs 1,000 volunteers to offer six nights a week of meals and overnight accommodation. One thousand volunteers.

And before the doors can open November 22, Out Of The Cold needs to find 200 more volunteers. Each night of operation, nearly 100 people sit down to dinner and about 20 stay all night. Each person is expected to work one shift a month and with the program beginning in November mid-April volunteers can count on working four or five shifts in total. It’s a small effort, really, for the contribution it makes to people’s lives.

Joan Jarvis, coordinator of the program here in Barrie, says the greatest need is in the overnight and breakfast shifts. “Volunteers aren’t so busy during those shifts, but it’s important that we have volunteers on site for our overnight guests. People working shift, or people who are retired are ideal volunteers for these time slots,” she says.

Out Of The Cold is now in its fifth year of operation. Last year, with the addition of Hi Way Pentecostal Church at Anne and Wellington streets, the program was able to operate for six nights a week. It’s located at four “downtown” churches... St Andrews Presbyterian (Mondays and Thursdays), Collier St United Church (Saturdays and Sundays), Central United Church (Fridays) and Hi Way Pentecostal on (Tuesdays). And this year, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Amelia St is opening its doors on Wednesdays, giving the homeless and working poor a seventh evening of dinners, sleeping and breakfasts.

This marvellous program is a wonderful example of cooperation in action. Denominations are setting aside their own parameters to operate a program that benefits a whole range of people. Teams of people who don’t attend the churches involved meet in their kitchens, learn how to operate their dishwashers, stock their freezers, and set up and wipe down their tables.

And for people who can’t do a church shift, there are the “meal makers.” It’s always amazing to me as we set tables and turn on ovens on Monday nights at St. Andrews, the doors open and in walk strangers carrying casseroles, dinner rolls, salads, fresh vegetables, cakes, pies, ice cream... all the makings of a meal. And there is always enough.

Meal makers are often from outlying churches. And just as frequently they are members of the community who just want to help out.

Each person volunteering with Out Of The Cold must attend an orientation session just to acquaint you with the giving process that’s working so well. Next training is next Saturday, October 20 from 9:30 am to 1 pm at Hi Way Pentecostal Church.

If you’d like to give a few hours once a month, you’ll find you’re making a contribution that radically improves the lives of everyone involved. You can “sign on” by calling 331-1396 and leaving a message. Include your name, the night and shift you’d like to work, and day and evening phone numbers and Out Of The Cold volunteers will get back to you to sign you up.

I’m headed into year three with one of the St Andrews Monday night crews. For my daughter and myself it’s an experience gives us alot more than we give it!

Thanks, Volunteers. Eight hundred strong for 2002 and need for 200 more!

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