The holiday season is fast approaching. As we prepare to give thanks, remember to give back. The Hoboken Shelter is perhaps the embodiment of generosity. For the last 30 years, it has been their mission to provide meals and eradicate homelessness one person at a time.
“We think it’s important to feed the whole person, starting with the stomach,” said Jaclyn Cherubini, executive director. “We can’t do it alone, but together as a community, we can end homelessness.”
On Monday through Friday anyone in need can come to the shelter, located at 300 Bloomfield St., to get cleaned up and have a meal, even if you are not staying at the shelter as a guest. The shelter can house 50 people a night – 35 men and 15 women. They provide towels, soap, and shampoo. If you live in the shelter, you are required to shower daily and complete light chores.
The shelter is open 24 hours a day and has a staff of 16, including three case managers, says Cherubini. However, the heart of the operation is the shelter’s family of volunteers. According to Cherubini, there are an estimated 5,000 people homeless inHudsonCounty.
“Our volunteers are most important. That is really the heart of the agency,” she said. “If you care enough to come through that door, I’m grateful. We welcome volunteers 365 days a year.” The volunteers have grown from a pool of 1,000 to 5,000, including about 400 volunteers on Thanksgiving and about 300 volunteers on Christmas.
Board member Dinorah Vargas has been volunteering ever since she got an important life lesson from an unexpected source. Vargus, who is a mother and a grandmother, had an epiphany while watching Sesame Street. She says this little boy had thrown a piece of paper in the street and the other characters showed the boy that the smallest of actions make a difference – for good or bad.
“I thought maybe if I do something – maybe I can make a difference,” said Vargas. In 14 years Vargas has done several different jobs at the shelter and has served as a board member for the past three years. Her family has also become part of the shelter’s family of volunteers.
Call to action
The shelter was first established in 1982 by the local-based faith leaders of the community, which banded together in response to the displacement of neighbors due to the weekly fires that were ravaging Hoboken. They became The Communities of Faith for Housing, Inc. a non-profit housing corporation made up of ministers and laity from houses of worship, as well as several Hoboken community leaders.
“I don’t think anyone thought 30 years ago that homelessness would still be so prevalent in our community and our country,” said Cherubini.
It was because of the initial actions of The Communities of Faith for Housing that the Hoboken Shelter, and other organizations like it based in houses of worship, exist throughout the country. Thirty years ago after they were told to shut their doors because they could not establish a shelter in a church, the faith based community went to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that the shelter could be there because a church building can be a place of shelter for anyone in need. The Hoboken Shelter is still owned and operated by the corporation, and recently celebrated their 30th anniversary this past May 3rd.
“I am following in really big shoes,” said Cherubini. “We have fed 1.6 million people, and sheltered about 400,000 men and women [to date].”
According to Cherubini, the numbers of those in need have increased tremendously over the years. In 2005, the shelter served about 55,000 meals, in 2010 over 100,000 meals, and in 2011 it went up an additional 20% with 119,633 meals served. This year the number already up 13% and it is anticipated that they will have served about 140,000 meals by the end of the year.
“I look back at the files when it was 35,000 meals,” said Cherubini. “[Today] I see more people living on the fringe of homelessness or on the borderline of poverty. People are just living on the edge of that next paycheck,” she says, adding that some wonder whether to pay the rent or buy food. “I say pay your rent. We’ll provide the food.”
A Good Meal and Support Services
With a family of 5,000 volunteers, the Shelter gives guests a sense of home by providing home cooked meals from exotic jambalaya to good old fashioned comfort food like meatloaf. Volunteers prepare meals for guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
At 6:30 a.m. guests living at the shelter have breakfast and receive a brown bag lunch. Anyone can then come at 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and dinner at 7 p.m. The shelter serves 400 meals daily at a cost of $2 per meal Most of the food is from generous donations by area families and restaurants, as well as some supplies from the food bank in Hillside.
“We serve 400 meals on Thanksgiving, and we double that to 800 meals on Christmas,” said Cherubini.
On Thanksgiving, volunteers are welcomed to come in as of 12 p.m. to help prepare and serve meals and refreshments, sort and distribute food and clothing donations, and socialize with the guests. After the meals are served, the shelter converts the great dining room into a support services center, where guest can participate in life skill workshops to help them gain employment and reintegrate into the community.
Cherubini thinks of the shelter as a community center. Some of the workshops include financial literacy on Mondays with experts teaching guests about budgeting and money management; health and hygiene on Wednesdays; and job and employment issues on Thursdays. Guests also participate in current event discussions; men and women support groups; and creative arts workshops. They are also offered counseling, case management, and emergency homelessness prevention grants.
“[We are ending homelessness] one person at a time by moving them from the street to our shelter to their own home,” said Cherubini.
Support services like the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, which includes 22 apartments managed by the shelter, have helped 166 people get permanent housing since the program’s inception. This year alone, the shelter has helped move 83 people from the shelter to their own homes.
“Some of our successfully housed guests come back [to volunteer], said Cherubini. “Even after you leave you are still part of our family. It gives a sense of hope [to others].”
A Place of His Own
One of the many great success stories is Randy, a former guest and volunteer, who now works for the shelter five days a week as one of the kitchen managers utilizing his experience in the food industry. “I had some rough times, and I ended up living in the streets,” said Randy, who had worked in restaurants in New York.
Randy worked as a dishwasher and a cook at a few places in the city including a Chinese restaurant, where he learned how to cook Chinese and even speak a little Cantonese. However, after he lost his job and collected unemployment for a while, he eventually couldn’t pay the rent. “I lived 15 years on the streets,” he said. “I didn’t even let my family know I was living in the streets.”
After moving around the city, Randy found his way to Hoboken, where he slept in parks and at the Hoboken terminal because it was quieter and nobody would bother him. Of course, he eventually found his way to the Shelter’s doorstep.
“I used to come here to eat every night and shower,” said Randy, who shortly after started to volunteer at the shelter. As a volunteer he got to eat a little more, and learned how to be on time. As a guest, he also took part in the workshops.
Now fully back on his feet with a place of his own, Randy has continued working with the shelter for two and half years, and paying it forward.
“Never forget where you came from,” said Randy. “I was in this predicament. I know how it is out there. One of my wishes is for everyone to have a good meal,” said Randy. “Life is good, real good. I am happy the way I am, doing what I’m doing right now. I am able to pay my rent, and I feel good. I’m happy – all thanks to Jacky.”
Give All You Can
Volunteers and donations are always needed. Donations can be purchased and shipped to the shelter on Amazon.com. or brought in person Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
As the weather turns colder, people get hungrier and need the shelter’s services more, Cherubini says. Donations for the winter months, especially socks are needed, as guests walk an average of 14 miles a day, she says. Throughout the year, the shelter always needs more paper plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and toilet paper.
One of the shelter’s biggest fundraisers will be held on Dec. 5th at Teak. The event is open to anyone and a $25 donation will be asked at the door. “We couldn’t do this without community support,” said Cherubini.
To volunteer, please call 201-656-5069 or visit www.hobokenshelter.org. If you need help, call Hudson County’s hotline 800-624-0287.