Jeff and JuJu at play. Jeff and his family had to find foster care for their dogs in order to avail themselves of the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter. photo provided
Jeff and JuJu at play. Jeff and his family had to find foster care for their dogs in order to avail themselves of the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter.

photo provided

When the doors open at 6 p.m. at the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter, two volunteers greet the guests warmly and make them welcome. After almost a month of the shelter being open, guests and volunteers are becoming a supportive "family."

During their first visit to the shelter, guests are asked to fill out a general information sheet, which is kept on file. Subsequently, each time guests come to the shelter they only need to sign in on the current evening's roster.

The volunteers have placed the sleeping pads around the room prior to opening the doors. As the guests arrive, they choose where they will sleep in the large room. Those who have been there most evenings have their favorite spots and everyone honors those.

Each guest has a large plastic tote with their name on it, out of which comes their shelter-provided linens, pillow, and quilt/blankets. Those linens are collected once a week by volunteers, laundered, and brought back all clean and folded. While at the shelter for the night, the guests can store their belongings in their tote, but everything they bring in leaves with them in the morning.

Every evening, meals are provided by a volunteer or donated by a local restaurant. Dinner is served around 6:30 p.m. and everyone sits around the table in the kitchen to share the meal, including meal and shelter volunteers.

Until the lights are dimmed at 10 p.m., (sometimes earlier) guests may socialize, rest and relax, read, watch movies, play games, do puzzles, and have a snack. There is a designated outside smoking area with a bucket for cigarette butts. At Westside Church, where this month's shelter is located, the café/kitchen is located right off the large room where everyone, except families, sleeps. During the night, guests are free to go to the kitchen for something to eat or drink.

Families are provided with a separate classroom in which they can all stay together and have a little privacy. There is currently a family of four utilizing that room - mom, dad, and two young boys. They had been living in the woods in their tent trailer until it just became too cold and snowy. Last Friday was an especially tough day for them when they discovered that the tent trailer had collapsed under the weight of the snow, so now they are left with no shelter at all other than that provided overnight at the church.

At midnight, a new team arrives to relieve the early shift volunteers, and they stay until 7 a.m. During the night they simply monitor the facility and the guests, and are available to assist the guests with any needs that may arise during the night. A majority of the late shifts have been filled by two men, Matt and James, from Shepherd's House in Bend, although volunteers are welcome to also sign up for the late shift.

Last Friday night, a Deschutes County sheriff's officer brought a man to the shelter after everyone was settled for the night. He had been walking in the dark and cold on icy Highway 20, with the intention of walking over Santiam Pass to Eugene where he hoped to catch a bus to take him back to Tennessee. The shelter hosts welcomed him, gave him a warm meal of lasagna left from dinner, and set him up with a place to lay his head for the night.

Breakfast foods, also provided by volunteers, are set out for guests, coffee is brewed, water is boiled, and the lights go on at 6 a.m. Guests put away their bedding, prepare for the day, have breakfast and make a lunch to take with them if they wish, help clean up the facility, and everyone, including volunteers, are out of the building by 7 a.m.

Due to the generosity of the community, the shelter has received a number of cash donations as well as a wonderful variety of food and clothing donations. There have been fresh doughnuts from Sisters Bakery, hot pizza from Martolli's, dinner from The Open Door, gift cards for the guests from McDonald's, Sisters Coffee, and Melvin's Fir Street Market.

Your Store dropped off some brand-new T-shirts. Individuals have brought in jackets, sweaters and boots and even a pair of snowshoes so one guest can walk in to check on his snow-buried motorhome. Donations of dental care and hygiene products have been greatly appreciated. A couple stopped by the other night with two one-gallon Ziplock bags full of homemade cookies plus another bag of warm jackets and some boots. Sisters Ace Hardware has donated supplies that the shelter guests need to make their camps habitable. Bi-Mart has also donated a variety of supplies.

Foster families, who have agreed to care for guests' dogs, have eliminated a big hurdle for people who need to come to the shelter, but don't want to leave their dogs alone at their camps. Currently, three dogs are being cared for by two families. The owners are able to have doggie visitations with their pets.

Kiki Dolson of Furry Friends Foundation is providing coats and food for guests' dogs who are being fostered. Pam Klettke made beautiful fleece blankets for the foster pups.

The response of the community whenever a need is put out has been tremendous, and at times almost instantaneous. The many generous hearts that make Sisters the special little village that it is are making it possible to meet a critical winter need - warm and safe shelter on cold winter evenings for those among us who are in

need.

For anyone interested in volunteering, and there are many ways to do that: go to the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter Facebook page and send an email by clicking on the blue button at the top of the page, or post your interest on the Facebook page. If you leave your contact information, someone will be in touch.