Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas at Amos House

[From an article that appeared a few years ago]

RICHARD WALTON, PROVIDENCE JOURNAL - I have been volunteering overnight at the Amos House men's shelter once a week since it opened in March of 1987. Earlier in the day I had dropped into the soup kitchen bustling with volunteers preparing for a big Christmas dinner. The big dining hall was festive with red and white checked tablecloths and there I encountered the true spirit of Christmas, for there in an hour or so, hundreds of people would be served a wonderful Christmas dinner. And that evening, when I arrived at the men's shelter, I found another cheerful place. Remember, these are men without a home, with little in the way of Christmas expectations. But they were warm and safe and treated with dignity and respect, as should be all humans. Even more important, they were demonstrating human resilience. Even homeless on Christmas Eve they could find something to celebrate. I wonder if that were so in every Rhode Island home, homes often bursting with Christmas "stuff."

When I arrived with my simple, inexpensive gifts [apples and tangerines and home-baked cookies and Oreos and ice-cold milk {it is, as we all know, a Newtonian law that Oreos must be consumed with ice-cold milk}], the guys were delighted. As was I. It was a quiet night. Nothing demonstrably Christmasy but a nice evening. Some of the guys watched TV, some went to bed early [common because there's not a lot to do evenings] and some dropped into my office/bedroom to chat for a while before turning in. Although the guys were permitted to sleep in Christmas morning, a number of them were already up by 6 when I started to get ready for breakfast. And the smell of bacon summoned others. About 7, the bacon in the oven to keep warm, I started taking orders, eggs easy over, sunny side up [only one call] or scrambled. Some of the guys seemed astonished that their breakfast was being cooked for them [well, they did their own toast] and offered to do their own but I wouldn't let them spoil my fun.

It took a couple of hours for everyone who chose to eat to drift downstairs and have breakfast. Then it was time, silly Santa hat on my long, white-haired, bearded head, to distribute the gifts Amos House had purchased. Some of the guys were astonished by this too. Here they were homeless and receiving gifts but Amos House has never wanted its guests to feel forgotten on Christmas Day. The guys liked the gifts, just right for men who had so little: flannel shirts [the right sizes] and warm gloves and thermal underwear and warm ski caps; I probably forgot something. So it was a cheerful kitchen this Christmas morning, smelling of bacon and filled with men cheerful despite being homeless, for they had not been forgotten. And soon a couple of them would start roasting a turkey for those who had no place to go that afternoon. . .

When I left about 10 o'clock, I left behind a house whose Christmas spirit was the equal of any in the state and, I expect, better than some. Oh, people often say to me how nice it is that I spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning at the men's shelter. I never quite know how to respond to that. Maybe it is nice but, as I appreciated again this time, there's no one anywhere who had a better Christmas than I. I can't imagine being anyplace else. Once again, Amos House had saved Christmas for a bunch of homeless men . . . and for me too.

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