By Daniel Montaño, Managing Editor | Photos by Daniel Montaño
At 11:30 a.m. on any given weekday, if one sits down at the long particle-board table that runs in front of the kitchen window in St. Martin’s day shelter, one can see what genuine compassion looks like.
That is when the staff and volunteers of St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, located at 1201 Third St. NW, take their midday break to sit down and eat, courtesy of the kitchen manager, Chef Joe Moreno, who is usually seated at the head of the table.
“That’s the one word I would use to describe this place: genuine,” Moreno said.
Moreno is one of only eight to 10, depending on the day, official staff members who work in St. Martin’s day shelter, all of whom serve up genuine kindness, compassion and care along with food and other daily necessities to more than 300 people who go through St. Martin’s doors every day, Linda Fuller, executive director of shelter services, said.
The shelter provides everything from storage and mail services to meals, showers and toiletries for homeless and near homeless clients, and relies on this small workforce of motivated individuals to do it, Fuller said.
Although some volunteers do help, especially on holidays — this Thanksgiving, for example, there were about 60 volunteers who showed up to offer a helping hand — most days there are not enough volunteers, if any at all, to run all the service stations, Fuller said.
“It’s great that they show up on holidays, but I tell them ‘you know, we’re open another 300 days or so this year,’” Fuller said.
Fuller credits CNM for providing student helpers through the service learning program, who work at St. Martin’s in order to get credit in classes, but said after the students complete their hours, they rarely come back and continue volunteering.
That means the staff takes on the brunt of the work at the shelter, and Moreno said they’re happy to do so.
“I love working with the homeless. It’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Dani Hunter said she has been on staff for about two years, but has been volunteering at St. Martin’s for about 10 years, and she is a perfect example of the genuine compassion that is common among all the staff members.
The day before Thanksgiving, Hunter said she strained her back early on in her shift, yet she could still be seen smiling and laughing, working tirelessly through the pain to help out as many clients as possible.
Hunter said her motivation to remain positive and help others comes from her upbringing, her family and her faith.
“This work keeps me humble and grateful. I’ve seen hard times in my life, and I may be two or three paychecks away from being in the same situation (as the homeless),” Hunter said.
While St. Martins offers a range of services, from assistance with housing, mental illnesses, substance abuse, and job placement, Fuller said she believes the heart of St. Martin’s is the day shelter.
The shelter is on the front lines in the battle against homelessness, Fuller said.
During the holiday season, there is an influx of donations to most homeless shelters, but Fuller said what St. Martin’s needs most are the basics: socks, underwear, toothbrushes, combs, gloves, coats, and hats.
Volunteers or donations are always welcome and appreciated, and people can contact Fuller at 363-9370 or by email and firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.