Vi and Joe Giusto looked as if they could have been in any trattoria Saturday night. Joe was ladling out his homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs over steaming pasta, Vi was helping with the plates.
But they were among half a dozen or so volunteers at Peace Lutheran Church in Glen Burnie for the Arundel House of Hope’s Winter Relief shelter. The 26 men who would be spending the night in the church’s basement were hungry.
“Man, they are waiting for spaghetti,” Vi said.
“They sure are,” said volunteer Jane Hudgins, who took a plate of spaghetti from her and added a salad, then handed it to one man. “Here you go. Careful, it’s hot on the bottom.”
The shelter has rotated among places of worship throughout the county since 1992, said Karen Biagiotti, the new director.
A volunteer for seven years with the program, Biagiotti took over for Phil Bailey, who retired this year to focus on his recovery from cancer and a heart attack.
Winter Relief is an emergency shelter for 62 people that runs for 26 weeks until April. Women and children stay in one location, and the men stay in another. How many people stay at one location depends on the location’s capacity, Biagiotti said.
The clients get picked up daily from the Arundel House of Hope’s Glen Burnie office and driven to the sites by a volunteer. The sites aren’t just churches; a temple joined for the first time this year, Biagiotti said.
The clients receive dinner, snacks, fellowship, and a shower on some days, returning to the House of Hope with a bag lunch for the next day.
The clients must submit to alcohol testing daily, according to Biagiotti.
“This is a dry shelter,” she said. “It’s all behavior driven. If you behave like you are on drugs, you are escorted from the program.”
The volunteers at Peace Lutheran initially had some concerns about their safety. Jim Fouse, the late founder of the House of Hope, came to the church with only a Bible to talk about the shelter, said Brian Hudgins, who coordinates the church’s volunteers.
But ultimately, church members felt it was more important to help, he said.
“These are people in our community, at the library, at shopping centers. Instead of having them claw and search for a place to say, we’re giving them a place to go,” Hudgins said. “You always worry about your safety wherever you go. But you can’t always recognize a homeless person. Sometimes, they’re well-dressed.”
Some of the clients Saturday night echoed those thoughts about perceptions of them among others.
“This economy is rough. I never thought I’d be in this position,” said Danny Holman, a welder who became disabled in an on-the-job accident and couldn’t work. “We try to keep ourselves up.”
Several men said they are trying to improve their situation and hope to have a home soon.
Tom Davis, a 57-year-old double amputee who lost both his legs after falling off a roof 22 years ago, has been homeless for a month and a half. He plans to find a home in time for a court date to gain custody of his 15-year-old daughter, whom he said is not in a good living situation.
When his daughter moved, Davis’ Section 8 housing contract was terminated because she was not living with him, he said. He slept at Baltimore Washington Medical Center a couple nights, roamed around a few nights after that.
Eventually, he found himself at the House of Hope after a referral from the Anne Arundel County's Department of Social Services.
Davis says trying to get custody of his daughter has been the push he has needed.
“I’m doing what I need to do to take care of my daughter. I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Davis said.
Some of the men, who watched college football and played cards and pool, said they regard the other men and the volunteers as family. Likewise, the volunteers become just as attached.
Sheila Burnham, of Pasadena, has volunteered for nearly four years. Burnham said she can’t attend the last day Peace Lutheran hosts the men because it’s too emotional to say goodbye.
Joe Giusto went through six pounds of meat to make his meatballs and 16 large cans of tomatoes for the sauce, along with seven pounds of spaghetti. But he and his wife wouldn’t have it any other way.
According to Vi, the spaghetti dinner is the most popular of the week.
“It makes us feel good. These people wouldn’t have a place to go and would be hungry," she said. "Coming from my family, where we stuff food down our throats, I couldn’t stand that."
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