Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cottage Grove is home to hundreds of helping hands

1/26/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Back in my newsroom days one of my favorite tasks was writing “Neighborhood News.” Readers would send or call in snippets of news and I would package them in a column with other items of interest. It kept me in touch with the community at large and in turn, kept residents in touch with each other.

Through those contacts, I discovered that Cottage Grove is an amazingly diverse place with a fascinating array of people. Maybe that’s why I took affront recently when I read in the Register Guard that in 2009 a reporter from The New Yorker magazine had described our area as “home to hippies and hillbillies in equal measure.”

I beg to differ. Sure we have hippies and hillbillies among us but they’re not alone. The Grove is home to a wide spectrum of folks from all walks of life. An amazingly diverse and generous group of residents live here who rub shoulders daily and when they see a need — they pool their resources to get the job done.

Every day there are unsung heroes volunteering time and effort around town to make Cottage Grove a warm, welcoming and comfortable place for all of us to live — including the homeless.

Area churches for many years have been feeding the homeless. “Soup’s On’ is the new kid on the block serving meals at the Community Center each Sunday. Sharon Jean is the coordinator for the event that is sponsored by many service organizations. A brown-bag lunch for the next day is also offered.

Locally, a hot meal is available most nights to those living on the streets and other individuals and families who need a hand-up during these hard times. Attendance varies but usually there are 15 — 30 people at each venue. Call for times:
Tuesday and Thursday: Trinity Lutheran Church
Wednesday: Church of the Nazarene
(Laundromat services also available call church for information)
Friday: United Methodist Church
Sunday: Cottage Grove Community Center

Every Nov. First Baptist Church puts together a Thanksgiving feast for anyone wanting to come out of the cold and join together around the table for good food and warm fellowship. They even deliver their delicious dinners to those shut-in and unable to leave their homes.

Last year, CG Beds for Freezing Nights, a compassionate ministry, was formed in response to the homeless among us who might need shelter when the weather goes down to 29 degrees or below. Their mission is to provide a safe, warm place to sleep for those who wish to come inside during the coldest nights of the year.” BNF is a registered non-profit organization with the state of Oregon with an elected board of directors.

It is estimated that there are about 25 chronically homeless individuals in our area So far, the 40 on-call (trained) volunteers outnumber those who have taken advantage of the opportunity to sleep inside out of the elements. Since Nov. 23 there have been three activations or times when First Presbyterian Church and Our Lady of Perpetual Help stood ready to open their doors at night due to cold weather. Guests have been scarce, only about 3 persons per night.

“This is a work in progress,” according to Cindy Weeldreyer, BFN Board Secretary. “We are wondering if the need is as great as in the larger metro area. Community Sharing is preparing a questionnaire for their homeless clients asking if they have heard about BFN and if so, why are they not using it?”

“If less than five people consistently use the warming centers there may be other options to help such as motel and food vouchers. We do know that some homeless individuals have their own homestead (i.e. campsite) and fear having their place trashed, things stolen, or other people move in if they leave.”

Weeldreyer stressed that the community has been very generous in meeting their needs and indicated that the board will re-evaluate the program at the end of the season. A shelter for transition with a day center is the ultimate goal to assist the homeless.

For over 30 years, Habitat for Humanity has been partnering with homeowners to build simple, decent housing for families. The houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable, no-interest mortgages. That money goes into a revolving fund and is used to build more houses.

Last month, the local Cottage Grove Habitat affiliate turned over the keys of a new house to Betty Havens. It took three years to get the permits and building done but perseverance paid off. This is the 11th house that the local Habitat has built.

“It takes literally hundreds of volunteers to put one of these projects together. But thanks to people who give, who work and who care, we got it done!” said Board President Kay Habenick.

“Literally a moveable feast of people came to help,” added Habenick. "A stay-at-home-dad came at night and painted the entire house; a retired doctor laid flooring and installed light fixtures; several Renaissance men came and did whatever needed to be done. There were cement trucks, electricians, plumbers, cabinet installers, shoppers, buyers and of course, the home owner’s sweat equity.”

Yep. Cottage Grove is a special place and it is home to special people who care about each other. No, it’s not a perfect place and we’re not perfect people. But I’m proud to call it home.

P.S. One final note. I would like to thank all of you who called, sent cards or otherwise wished me a happy birthday on Jan. 13. It was a great day! I saved all of the messages on my answering machine until it overflowed. I am grateful to my husband for his love and inspiration to surprise me and the Sentinel staff that helped put it all together. Thanks to all!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper.

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