The Gathering Place in Brunswick represents exactly what the name says. It is a place where people are free to gather. These are extremely challenging times. The number of homeless is increasing due to many cutbacks as a direct result of the pandemic. Shelters have been forced to lower the number of occupants due to COVID restrictions. Food insecurity is rapidly growing as people’s jobs have been eliminated. For the first time in some people’s lives, they are being forced into situations they never imagined being in. They have no knowledge of what services are available, how to ask for help or how to navigate an unfamiliar system.

There are also many people who live alone and are facing social isolation, food insecurity and struggling financially. The Gathering Place is a comfortable and safe environment where people can come, be welcomed and have a cup of coffee while visiting with another person.

Last year, I was looking for a place to volunteer and serve a Christmas dinner. Simply by chance, I walked into The Gathering Place thinking it was the food shelf. The volunteer who greeted me explained where the food shelf was and that they did not serve meals on Christmas Day. He continued to talk to me while explaining the population that The Gathering Place served and the need it served in the community. He asked me to consider volunteering there. The volunteer coordinator was not there, so he suggested I return and talk to her. When I returned, one of the volunteers was someone I knew. Ultimately, I decided to volunteer.

We all hear about the homeless population in communities and sometimes see them on the streets. I for one never thought much about them except to think how sad it must be. Once I started to volunteer at The Gather Place, I quickly learned that everyone is a person with a story. Some stories are more tragic than others, some have medical conditions that prevent them from working and some have just come upon hard times with no place or family to turn to for help. They are just people like everyone; unfortunately some are struggling more than others.

The Gathering Place was open five days a week, offering those who needed a safe place to be during the day a place to come. They developed friendships and were able to connect with services. There were activities to occupy their time such as card games, puzzles and art projects. Computers, phones, cell phone chargers and receiving mail were available. Local vendors donated food. It was amazing to see people helping each other and getting to know one another. Sometimes just having another understanding person to talk to brought a smile to their face. On those bitterly cold nights last winter, The Gathering Place remained open so that the homeless would have a warm and safe place to spend the night.

Then COVID hit and The Gathering Place was forced to close. New guidelines were developed, The Gathering Place reorganized and was able to once again open its doors following social distancing, wearing masks and offering coffee, connections with services and social interactions. The summer months found most people outside unless they were using the phone or computers. As the fall started to approach and winter not far behind, The Gathering Place once again had to plan for the weather which would force people inside while maintaining the health and safety of the guests as well as the volunteers. It has been a long process but The Gathering Place has remained open and has been able to increase the number of days and hours it is open. We are currently three days a week.

These are unprecedented times with many unknowns. The numbers of people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress are increasing. The number of people needing support, help and services are increasing. Social isolation, food insecurity and financial concerns are impacting lives in ways never imagined in this country. Oftentimes it seems like there is so little one can do. Being of service is a two-way street. When one can be of service to another human being, it brings a sense of wellness and hope to both people. There are many ways to be of service. Simply smiling at someone can make a huge difference. If you have a desire and are looking for a way to be of service and give back to your community, stop by The Gathering Place and talk to one of the volunteers.

Ann Lindner is a volunteer supervisor at The Gathering Place. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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