Touching Gratitude: Organizing at a Homeless Shelter

As I carried a tall stack of blankets to volunteers in the front room, I passed through what felt like a war zone. A young, bleached blond woman sat with her head down on one of the folding tables, her face buried in her arms; a middle-aged man with a black eye and scraped arms stood drinking water with shaky hands from a dixie cup; a man with black and grey-hair and baggy clothes watched me with dark, narrowed eyes. All of them were damp from standing in the rain as they waited to be let in.

This was my first day as a volunteer at the Kitsap Rescue Mission in downtown Bremerton, a day and overnight shelter for homeless people that often serves 75 people a day. They’ve served over 8,000 people in 2018! My two and a half hours there was an experience I hope to never forget, and I hope to repeat.

Most of my time was spent in the large back room, organizing donations with another volunteer, but occasionally I’d walk back through the sea of bedraggled humanity, arms full of more blankets or other items volunteers said were needed.

Earlier this year, I met Ami Leach, Program Administration Support (read as: Superwoman), at a luncheon to raise money for a remodel of the ailing downtown building. She soon contacted me, asking for help creating an organizing system for days when large amounts of donations come in. When I stopped by to drop off donations and see the donation space, she gave me a quick tour, saying this time of year is extremely busy for the Mission.

My jaw dropped as soon as I walked in the back door – there were enormous piles of donated items!

“Two churches brought in most of these donations in one day. It was wonderful, but it was nuts. We use a lot of items, especially in the winter, but keeping things organized is challenging,” she said.

When I learned volunteers would be coming in the next day to sort the items, I said I just happened to have the day free and would love to come in to help. I wanted to help ease the overwhelmed look on her face, as well as see the flow of items, volunteers and donation receivers before helping her come up with organizing systems.

Just as with any organizing client, before deciding where things belong, I wanted to see: what are the most important items? Where would be the easiest place to put items as they come in? What is the natural flow of movement in the space?

Mural on the side of the Mission. I love how it looks like the bear is looking after the man on the street.

When I arrived the next day, Ami just had a few moments before she had to rush out to unlock the door. She would personally check in with each person in the long line of patient, wet people waiting outside. They were looking for a safe, dry place to sit, a warm beverage, and a chance to say what items they needed to make life a little easier.

“This time of year so many people need blankets,” she said before she left me to the piles of donations. “When you or I have a blanket that gets wet or dirty, we can just toss it into the washer or dryer. When someone lives on the street and has a blanket that gets wet, it often gets ruined and thrown away, so another one is needed. As soon as you come across blankets, bring them out front as we don’t have any and people will definitely be asking for them today.”

Ami Leach, Program Administrator at the Kitsap Mission.

Ami left me with Lilia, the one other volunteer there to sort donations. She and her husband have been volunteering for about six months, so she’s considered a veteran sorter.

Lilia started a few times to show me the ropes, but she kept stopping to exclaim, “Oh my gosh, this is just so much! We don’t even have boxes and bins to sort into because they’re all full!”

We finally set up a system to empty usable bins and boxes first, then use those for sorting. Soon we had a sorting system that felt just like days with my clients: a bin for trash (torn, stained or very used items), a bin for recycling (a blue bag for donations to another program – turns out Bremerton homeless people don’t like to wear sweaters, so they and all summery items were put into this bin), and containers for categories such as Men’s Shirts, Men’s Pants, Children, Hats and Gloves…

 

As I sorted, I learned about what’s donated, what’s kept, what gets recycled, and how needed items moved to the front room to be used. I also saw how Ami looked up at the roof when she saw the puddle on the floor, and how the donations just keep coming in, no matter what.

“Another donation? Noooo!” Lilia would joke as another bag would be brought in and added to the pile. Slowly but surely, we made a dent in the pile and sorted, quality items were set aside for volunteers to choose from.

One time, Ami walked in with a man in need of size 50 pants. We found a pair, and she helped him take a pile of items and a rolling suitcase to the door, chatting amiably with him as they walked.

Two and a half hours passed in the blink of an eye. Lilia and I moved through bags and boxes, sorting, folding, categorizing. The space slowly started to open up, and items slowly took shape in organized bins and boxes.

A few times, one of the volunteers wearing a tool belt, suspenders and cargo pants gave me an infectious grin and said things like, “This place is full of angels, really. There are just people everywhere doing and saying nice things. This place is just so GOOD!” Then he would crack a corny joke and laugh at himself before walking away.

Before he left for the day, I heard his raspy voice telling another volunteer that he was leaving for the day. Then he said that Ami had invited him to her house for Thanksgiving dinner. For a moment the raspiness was gone and he sounded light and airy, awestruck, almost childlike. I looked up to see him disappear out the door with a grin on his crinkled face.


The most important item I touched that day was the depth of my gratitude for the things I have. As I laid in bed that night under a warm electric blanket, I thought of the new roof over my head, the locked doors keeping me safe, and the looks on the faces as I walked through the room that day.

Even on a rough day, I will remember: I have so very much to be grateful for, and I have so very much to give…be it my time, blanket donations from my clients, or my smile to the black-eyed man on the street.

WHAT THEY NEED:

The Kitsap Rescue Mission is located in downtown Bremerton, Washington. In the winter they are mostly in need of socks, blankets and coats, but the best things you can donate are your time, or money to help with their much-needed remodel!

For more information or to contact the Kitsap Rescue Mission:

Ami Leach, Program Administration Support, about volunteering or donation needs: aleach@kitsaprescue.org / 360.373.3428

xo,

Spring

 

 

Getting Sentimental with Organizing

Bru-nO / Pixabay

So I’m in the process of getting certified as a KonMari organizing consultant, and I have been since I returned from my KonMari training in New York in March. I’m so eager to be one of the very few KM consultants in Washington state, and it’s been killing me that I haven’t made it to the finish line yet!

In order to get certified, I have to work through the five categories of the KonMari method twice: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental. Once with one person (all categories with this one person), and once with other people (each category can be with a different person).

I thought, “Oh, this will be a breeze! I work with people every day ~ I’ll be certified by summer!”

I blazed through the first four categories within a two weeks, but the sentimental category has had me stymied since then (it’s been eight months!)

The client I was doing all the categories with lost her job and was unable to continue, and somehow I haven’t gotten to the sentimental category with anyone else, either, even though I work most days organizing with clients. I’ve worked through entire houses with a few clients since then, but somehow no one seems ready to tackle the sentimental category.

I mentioned my frustration to a therapist friend of mine, and she immediately said, “It sounds to me like you probably need to go through YOUR sentimental items! I bet as soon as you do, this category will clear right up with your clients.”

I gulped, and with wide eyes, I acknowledged that I do indeed have “THE BOX.”

You know, the box full of old love letters, miscellaneous photos and who-knows-what that I’ve been holding onto for more years than I can remember.

I even have “THE ROOM.” My husband and I call it the James Bond Room – a tiny room behind a secret door attached to our guest room/art room that holds a lot more than just “THE BOX.” It also has the crib I’ll never use, projects I dreamed of doing but probably never will, and the like.

So, I decided it’s time to hire myself and organize my sentimental items.

And OH MY, is it HARD!

Seriously, now I deeply understand why people hire home organizers. I went through a few things, then decided it was time for bed. I swore I’d get to it the next day, but since that first couple hours, I’ve come up with every excuse in the book to avoid even opening the door to that room!

DWilliams / Pixabay

There’s a reason sentimental items is the last category – it takes a strong “do I love this” detector to let go of things like my first snowboard boots, the crib for the child I never got pregnant for, the poster of my friend and I on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the love letters from old boyfriends…

Going through all the other categories first prepared me for this much more challenging category.

Since I’ve done all the other categories, and I’m a professional home organizer, I know it’s time to hold each item in that secret room and ask myself: DO I LOVE THIS? Does it spark joy? Will I miss it when it’s gone? All the questions I guide my clients through I now need to ask myself.

If that room gets cleared out, it would be the puurrfect room for fostering kittens, as my husband wants to do, and for hosting slumber parties with my friends’ children when their Moms and Dads need a break and my husband and I need some kid time.

So, here goes. Wish me luck! And know that I feel your pain if I’ve worked with you, or if you’re embarking upon your own organizing party…

I’ll share photos when I’m done. I’d love to hear your experiences with organizing sentimental items, either here in the comments section or on my Facebook Page.

Sincerely,

Spring

My ancient snowboarding boots, which I haven’t worn in 20+ years…they’re in the car to be donated!

 

Winter Warmth: A Belizean Adventure

I had the best of intentions to put my annual travel habit on hold this winter to focus on my businesses and save money, but when my husband said, “Hey, do you want to travel to somewhere sunny and warm this winter?” before I knew what I was saying, “Absolutely! Where should we go? How about Belize?” popped out of my mouth.

He had never traveled internationally before and I decided this was the year to do some research – my Journey For Purpose business partner has been saying for years that we should lead kayak trips in Belize, so this was the year to make it happen! Maria used to own a sailboat and charter private trips in Belize, and I’d heard it was an incredibly beautiful and friendly place to travel. Read more

Usher in Springtime with these 5 Simple Spring Cleaning Tips

Welcome to Springtime! The official first day of Spring is March 20, but in my mind there are three signs the season has changed:

  1. The first daffodil has poked it’s head up
  2. My kayak seems to be crying out to me from it’s place in the garage
  3. I have an urge to open my doors to let the sun in and the old air out

With the desire to let the sunshine in comes a desire to shake things up a bit, to refresh my life. To do this, I know spring cleaning my home is always the best place to start.

Here are 5 simple spring cleaning ideas to welcome in the new season and the new beginnings it represents: Read more

Sustainable Spring Blog

I used to write a blog for the Kitsap Sun newspaper called Sustainable Spring: Adventures in Green Living. Here are some posts with links:

Tips for Tea Drinkers – review of tea brands (did you know many have toxic chemicals?)

Plastics – which are the best and worst?

Sowing Seeds – see how easy it is to grow your own vegetables from seed

Dandelion Health – learn how to use dandelions to boost health

Eating Our Antihistamines – using easy-to-find foods to combat allergies

More posts at on the Kitsap Sun site

Say Goodbye to Fruitflies

I encounter fruit flies in so many kitchens, including my own, so I finally tried a combination of methods people have told me about…and it’s working! If you’re ready to say goodbye to fruitflies, here’s the recipe for success.

What you need:

  • mason jar or glass
  • rubber band
  • drop of liquid soap
  • 2 tablespoons(ish) apple cider vinegar
  • small dab of honey (1/4 teaspoon or less is fine)
  • piece of plastic
  • scissors

How to make your fruitfly trap:

Read more

Welcome to Springland!

There is so much possibility, so much life to live in each day, so many moments in which we can be grateful!

I’m reading “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh and each page reminds me that gratitude is what truly keeps us happy – even in our toughest moments, there’s something to be grateful for.

Today I’m especially grateful for my community, including family, Facebook friends, lifelong friends, my boyfriend and his firefighter friends and their families…the list goes on and on and so does my gratitude.

Just by reading this you’ve become part of my community, so thank you for being here and for being alive!

Sincerely,

Spring & Cricket

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