On any one night, approximately 2,638 Baltimoreans sleep in a shelter or on the street, according to 2013 point-in-time statistics from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office. In Baltimore City, more than four out of every 1,000 residents are homeless. Of these people, two-thirds are men, and 20 percent are younger than 25.
In a city where more than 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, there is a great need for those who have the funds to help. And for the Jewish community, we learn from the Torah the power of the collective to make a difference.
In Exodus 36: 2-5, the Torah describes the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness:
“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring free will offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’”
As autumn temperatures drop, shelter and support organizers say the need for help among the area’s most poor rises. From coat donations to warm meals, organizations around Baltimore step in to fill the void created by a lack of permanent or stable housing.
In honor of Chanukah, here is a list of eight places in the Baltimore community that support the homeless, organizations that you can work with or contribute to in order to make this Chanukah season more about spreading the light and giving warmth to those in need.
The Baltimore Station
Dedicated primarily to serving veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, The Baltimore Station describes itself as “an innovative therapeutic residential treatment program supporting veterans and others who are transitioning through the cycle of poverty, addiction and homelessness to self-sufficiency.”
Residents, all of whom are male, begin most mornings at 5:30 with chores and other work before heading to a group breakfast. The rest of the morning is spent in group therapy and acudetox, a therapy that uses acupuncture to calm patients recovering from addiction with the intent of reducing cravings.
Afternoons include group addiction meetings and education sessions, where clients learn to better understand their addictions, before 6 p.m. dinner when, about four nights a week, Director Michael Seipp said, volunteers from the community join the residents to help prepare the food and share a meal.
“What you’re doing is you’re saying to them, ‘Hey, I’m a normal person, I’m doing everything the right way, and I’m giving up two hours of my time or three hours of my time because I think you have value as a human being,’” said Seipp of the effects the volunteers have on the residents going through the program. “That begins to rebuild a sense of self-worth.”
This interfaith organization has partnered with congregations including Baltimore Hebrew, Beth Israel, Beth Tfiloh and Chizuk Amuno to operate programs such as CARES, which provides food and financial assistance to the needy in the Govans neighborhood of North Baltimore, the North East Food Pantry, which provides emergency food relief to the city’s Hamilton and Arcadia neighborhoods, and the Harford House, the Micah House and Shelter Plus Care, all of which are designed to help the city’s homeless find stable housing.
With more than 10 branches, there are plenty of opportunities for GEDCO’s partners to help, but Meghan Peterson, GEDCO’s external relations coordinator, says most people are interested in helping with the food pantries.
“People feel that, since they can do direct service there, they’re probably reaching the most people to serve in the community,” she says.
Since its incorporation in 1991 by seven local pastors, GEDCO’s reception in the community has been extremely welcoming, Peterson says.
“We’re all trying to meet the same mission and goals, which is to help build and serve the community,” she says. “I think that’s something we all have in common.”
The INNterim House, a division of the Interim Housing Corporation, provides women and children with a safe place to stay and a nurturing environment to grow and become self-sufficient. The shelter is located in Pikesville, and spaces are reserved only for women with children.
In addition to offering these families a safe and comfortable dwelling, the INNterim House also offers services such as childcare, meals and access to internships and skills classes.
The organization hosts workshops every other Thursday night, in which volunteers host sessions on things such as financial literacy, first aid and childcare.
“You name it, we have a workshop on it,” says Karla Pitchford, office manager at INNterim.
In addition to adult volunteers, the shelter hosts a number of child volunteers through school programs and families who wish to include their children in their community service. The INNterim residents especially enjoy the chance to interact with the youngest volunteers.
“The kids love it,” says Pitchford. “It’s great.”
Jewish Volunteer Connection
In addition to a number of other services the JVC offers throughout the year, the organization will host its 12th annual Community Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25.
Mitzvah Day 2013 will offer participants the opportunity to assemble 1,500 care packages of hats, scarves, toiletries and other winter necessities that will be distributed to those in need in the Baltimore area via local shelters and resource providers. In addition, participants will have access to other local volunteer opportunities.
“This is a great way for [the congregations that have partnered with the JVC] to build community within their congregations as well as to be a platform for service for anybody, whether they’re affiliated with a synagogue or not,” says Ashley Pressman, JVC executive director.
Community Mitzvah Day also allows JVC to introduce participants to some of the ways they can help their community, she says.
“The Jewish community is very generous with time and with money,” says Pressman. “There’s a tremendous enthusiasm for getting involved and for opportunities to really make a tangible difference.”
Our Daily Bread
A soup kitchen that boasts 700 meals served per day, Our Daily Bread, a division of Catholic Charities, serves some of the city’s most needy residents.
“You get that fellowship,” says Chris Kelly, about the difference it makes to sit and talk to the men, women and children who visit the kitchen instead of simply providing them with food and shuffling them through the door. Kelly is an associate administrator in the Community Services Division of Associated Catholic Charities of Maryland.
“We could not run our programs without volunteer participation,” says Kelly.
This participation ranges from youth groups hosting fundraisers and food drives to volunteers serving daily breakfasts and lunches to local congregations cooking several days’ worth of casseroles.
Not only do the organization’s clients benefit from the supportive Baltimore — and Jewish Baltimore — community, says Kelly, but the volunteers also benefit.
Many new volunteers underestimate the extent of the need in the community, he says, noting: “For a lot of folks, it’s eye-opening.”