Opinion: Stretched to the Limit

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Volunteer for a night or two at a Code Blue warming center; it will allow other volunteers to get a break.

As you well know, it has been extremely cold lately and for consecutive days at a time. The high temps in the 20s and the overnight lows in the single digits, along with the “feels like” temp in some cases below zero, reminds me of the importance of Code Blue in Cumberland County. It reminds me that no one should lose their life, as Joseph Henshaw did in December of 2013, because they have no place to go.

But consecutive days of freezing temps also means that our volunteers who staff the overnight hours at the warming centers are tired, because they have been going for many nights without a break. It’s not that they’re complaining, but as I’ve worked many overnight shifts over the past couple of weeks, I can see it in their eyes.

We need your help. Even if you can only volunteer for one night here and there, it would allow other volunteers to get a break. If we have some fresh reinforcements, we might make it through this winter in decent shape. We’re only at the start of January, but the winter of 2017-2018 has set records for the number of consecutive nights we’ve had Code Blue operational. While my frame of reference, for obvious reasons is Bridgeton, I know my counterparts in Millville and Vineland are in much the same situation—volunteers pushed to the max doing multiple shifts per week.

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So please consider helping out if you are able to do so—even if it is just short-term to help get us through this current season. If you would like to find out more information as to what exactly is involved with volunteering for Code Blue, please visit codeblueccnj.org, which operates under the auspices of M25 Initiative, which not only oversees Code Blue but also the “Housing First” program focused on permanent solutions to homelessness.

This is as it should be, because Code Blue and the temporary warming centers are what we do to meet the immediate needs of the homeless men and women to have shelter from the freezing cold and to get a hot meal. “Housing First” is what we do so that at some point, these same men and women no longer need to come back to a temporary warming center because they have stability and a home.

If you are unable to physically volunteer, perhaps because of work commitments, family obligations, health limitations, schedules, etc., then maybe you will consider making a monetary donation to Code Blue. I recognize that not everyone has the time or the wherewithal to physically be present to help, but they still desire to make a difference. A donation is another way to have an impact.

In the near term, it costs an average of $500 a night for Code Blue. This includes everything from hot meals and toiletries, to cleaning supplies, cots, sheets, and pillows. Beyond that, there are the utility costs (i.e. heating, electricity, etc.) of the various organizations and houses of worship that open their doors to Code Blue and certain administrative costs to cover.

Any monetary gift is very much appreciated because on freezing nights like the ones we’ve had lately, it goes directly to saving lives. Longer term, as it relates to “Housing First,” your gifts are part of giving people stability and helping them gain back a measure of control and dignity in their lives—and that’s no small thing. You can learn more about these longer term efforts and how you can help by visiting m25initiative.org.

But for right now, with consecutive days of sub-freezing temps, in the heat of this Code Blue moment (no pun intended), we’re stretched to the limit. We need volunteers to help provide staffing at the warming centers not only for those seeking shelter, but for the volunteers currently on their fourth, fifth, six, or seventh night in a row working a Code Blue shift. Please consider being our much-needed “fresh reinforcements.”

As stated above, you can explore what is involved with Code Blue and/or actually sign up by visiting codeblueccnj.org, and clicking through the various links. If you would prefer to speak with me to get some background and hear about my own experiences as a volunteer, please call my office at 856-455-3230, ext 200 and leave your number and I will be back in touch with you. Whatever you do…keep warm and stay safe.

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