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Published on April 06, 2022

Helping the Homeless, One Blanket at a TimeHelping the Homeless, One Blanket at a Time

Cape Cod Hospital nurses, doctors and others donate to Northside United Methodist Church’s “Blankets for the Homeless” drive.

By Laurie Higgins

In the past year, Sue Eldridge, RN, a Cape Cod Hospital nurse since 1994, began working on the Outreach Committee at Northside United Methodist Church in Brewster. As a committee member, one of the first things she volunteered to do was serve dinner to the homeless and other food-insecure people at the Faith Family Kitchen in Hyannis.

Once the COVID-19 restrictions started, the Faith Family Kitchen pivoted and added a take-out window, so food could be delivered safely. Eldridge offered to be the person at the window since a lot of the other volunteers in her group were uncomfortable in that higher exposure position. It gave her a unique perspective on the people she was serving.

“They were some of the kindest, most polite people you could ever talk to,” she said. “I think people are jaded about the homeless. They think it’s mentally ill people and drug addicts, and yes there is that component, but there is a whole different level of homelessness now. To hear people’s stories, it just gets to you.”

The stories and circumstances that made people housing-insecure ran the gamut, she said. One woman had been a forest ranger for 30 years. She told Eldridge she lived in the woods with a group of people in Hyannis, building lean-tos out of wood and debris, and staying warm with a big fire.

Another young woman used to live on Nantucket with her mother. When her mom was diagnosed with cancer, they couldn’t afford their apartment on the island. Plus, the mom needed chemotherapy in Hyannis. They have been on the housing list for two years, and have been couch surfing the whole time. Another young woman was living in a van and hadn’t eaten anything in three days.

One night, Eldridge was talking to Faith Family Kitchen volunteer trainer, Donna Vachon, about the different people she met and their circumstances. She learned that there was an urgent need for blankets to help keep people warm.

“Donna told me wool blankets were best because they keep people warm even if they get wet, and they repel water a little,” Eldridge said.

Inspired to help, Eldridge mentioned the need at the next Outreach Committee meeting at her church a few days later. The committee decided to hold a blanket drive to buy blankets as their monthly fundraiser. It was a great start, but Eldridge wanted to raise more money outside of her church

Co-Workers Pitch In

The next day, she went to work and told her co-workers and colleagues in the Cardiac Catherization Lab at Cape Cod Hospital, where she has worked for the past 15 years, about the homeless people she had met. She also told them about the Duffy Health Center’s “In from the Streets” program that provides temporary motel shelter and case management services for people experiencing homelessness who are medically frail or at risk due to severe weather.

“I was saying it would be great if we could raise money to give blankets to that particular shelter because it’s in Hyannis where we work, and they actually deal with all of the healthcare issues of the homeless,” she said. “All of a sudden, people got onboard, and people were giving me cash. The doctors were all trying to outdo each other, which was great. Just about every single person in the cardiovascular procedure area donated in some way, shape or form. I think we raised over $600 for the blankets just in our department in under a week. It was amazing.”

In the meantime, Northside UMC Outreach Committee chairperson, Barbara Munch, researched blankets and places to distribute them. She called the Housing Assistance Corporation first.

“HAC confirmed that there was a huge need for blankets and they put me in touch with the Duffy Health Center who said they could use tons of them,” Munch said. “I bought 30 blankets up front. The response was just incredible, so then we bought another 80. Contributions kept coming in and we ordered another 50. It was far beyond my expectations in terms of the way people responded to it.”

Between donations from Cape Cod Hospital and members of Northside UMC, Barbara was able to buy a total of 160 blankets to donate. In addition to Duffy, she and other committee members distributed them to St. Joseph House, the Salvation Army, the Veteran’s Outreach Center and Homeless, Not Hopeless.

Both Eldridge and Munch think there are a couple of reasons people responded in such a big way to the blanket drive. It’s a local cause and people like to make a difference in their own back yard, Munch said. Because they work in Hyannis, people at the hospital also see homeless people, so they see the need, Sue said. They both also attribute the response to the bitter cold weather we experienced.

“The weather was frigid in January and you see the homeless people out there and you wonder how they survive,” Eldridge said. “I think it touches something deep inside people when you see someone in such great need.”

The Outreach Committee at Eldridge’s church has now shifted its fundraising efforts for March and April to World Central Kitchen’s program to feed refugees from Ukraine.

This story originally appeared in Cape Cod Health News

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