CARBONDALE — The winter months are a prime time for thinking of others — schools and churches have food drives, people make more donations and plan volunteer hours.
Patty Mullen, executive director of the Good Samaritan House in Carbondale, said this is all a godsend. Housing insecurity doesn’t begin and end with the holidays, but she said it’s a busy time for shelters.
“Usually this time a year, our shelter fills up,” she said.
However, she said Good Sams’ guests aren’t all the chronically homeless — the ones with tattered clothes and cardboard signs — though they are there, too, and are equally welcome. She said also, the house fills in for a place to sleep and a hot meal are those who are experiencing housing insecurity for the very first time.
This is almost invisible here, Mullen said.
“In a rural area, you don’t see it as much as you do in the city,” she said. “The homeless here are in the woods, they are in the parks,” Mullen added, saying this is a contrast to a big city where people are seen more frequently on benches and in alleyways.
She said the work she does is all she could ever imagine doing — there is no career for her outside of helping people, and this is punctuated this time of year.
“It’s a great feeling because you grow up thinking that a lot of people are taken care of at Christmastime, but the reality is, there are a lot of people out there who don’t have a place to go,” she said.
Throughout the month of December, Mullen said the shelter receives a steady stream of gifts, particularly holiday food that takes the burden off of their cooks.
Come Christmas Day, she said, for nearly two decades, Grace United Methodist Church has organized a gift-giving program that provides a gift to each person staying at the shelter.
Mullen agreed that it can be tough to find something for someone who has everything, but there is an alternative: Giving to someone who has nothing.
Mullen said regular donations can be set up at a person’s bank or Good Sams can do it through Paypal and a donation in a friend or family member’s name can be a great gift.
These cash donations, Mullen said, are “the largest things that people can do.”
“We have to afford the operations of the shelter, too,” Mullen said. Food donations are good — but they don't help keep the lights on.
Meals are served at 8 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at 701 S Marion Street in Carbondale. The soup kitchen, one of five branches of Good Sams, serves guests of the emergency shelter, but also accepts community members who may also be in need of a hot meal.
“We serve until we run out of food, which isn’t very often,” Mullen said.