Creating a homemade holiday

With gifts, warm meals and visits from Santa, shelters bring cheer to those who have nowhere else to go

December 23, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,Sun reporter

Shane Taylor arrived at the city's winter shelter this weekend, just in time to receive an armful of gifts yesterday during a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

"It was pretty fun," the 10-year-old said at an afternoon party for 14 children staying at the Guilford Avenue shelter. "It's all a big surprise."

Hundreds staying at shelters across Baltimore will spend the holiday right there, while others will have places to go, shelter coordinators say.

"Some people are connected with families and will be able to be with them," said Linda Boyer, executive director of Jobs, Housing and Recovery, which runs the winter shelter with a capacity of 316. "Some are estranged. Everyone will handle the holiday differently."

Shane's mother, April Smith, 44, who arrived at the shelter Friday night with Shane and her 7-year-old daughter Maya, was just happy the children were getting to have any Christmas this year.

"All I was worried about was them," said Smith, who said she had to quit her job at a store in Anne Arundel County that day and come to Baltimore because her allotted time at a domestic violence shelter there was up. "I knew I couldn't do it - not this year anyway. But I told them once I got my income tax check, I'd make it up to them."

Shane was excited to receive action figures and trucks, a Polar Express DVD and some wrapped gifts.

But sleeping in a crowded room with babies that cry all night is hard, said Smith, who said she worked as a dietary aide at the University of Maryland for 17 years. She has been forced to move several times recently, from Prince George's County to Anne Arundel County and now to Baltimore, shuffling her children from school to school because she and her daughter were abuse victims, she said.

Smith said she has nowhere to go this Christmas except the Baltimore shelter.

"I'm hoping by February to have a new job and a new place, because I can't keep doing this," she said. "We're used to being on our own and supporting ourselves.

After the children's party yesterday, adult residents were treated to a music show and given warm gloves, hats and socks at the shelter, which opened Dec. 7, replacing the smaller Oasis shelter at Gay Street and Fallsway. Since it opened, the shelter has housed about 300 people each night.

"There are so many reasons people would come here," Boyer said. "We're all kind of fragile."

Over a two-week period, between the end of November and the beginning of December, 77 people received an assessment through the winter shelter for health, employment and other services. Of those assessed, 24 moved to stable housing, six got jobs and 11 were identified as being eligible for services through local, state or federal agencies, according to shelter statistics.

Michelle Holley, 23, who has lived in shelters on and off for about two years, came to the holiday party with her two children, Jermiah, 2, and Breonia, 4.

Holley, who one day hopes to be a nursing home nurse, plans to spend Christmas Day with her son's father.

Around Baltimore, shelters bustle with activity this time of year.

Tory Bryant, director of the Karis Home, which helps women and children, said this time of year brings in regular benefactors who come with carloads of donations.

"I'm trying to find space for items now," she said. "I'm expecting a lot of people to come through with toys and toiletries and money."

The shelter can house up to 40 people and currently has about 25.

Children and adults who wake up there on Christmas morning will have presents under the tree to open just as they would in a typical family that celebrates the holiday.

"We make it just like home," Bryant said.

For the Helping Up Mission, which focuses on helping men recovering from addiction, this weekend is far quieter than Christmas Day will be. On that day, workers expect to feed more than 1,000 people, said Terrence McCurley, development officer.

Between 270 and 300 people now live at the mission, which takes up the entire 1000 block of East Baltimore Street, he said. Each night, an additional 55 or so come in to get a hot meal.

After arriving at the Guilford Avenue shelter this weekend, Sherrie Malone, 18, and her 1-year-old son, Damonyae, are among the lucky ones with nearby family to visit on Christmas.

Brightly wrapped gifts for her baby sat next to her yesterday, and Malone was grateful to shelter employees who threw the party and to those people who made donations.

"That was nice of them," said the teenager, who lost both parents at age 4. "They really don't have to do none of this. It shows they really care."

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