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Grace Church Community Center Preps for Winter

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Every winter the Grace Church Community Cente r adds 14 beds to its Open Arms Men’s Shelter and four beds to its Samaritan House Women’s Shelter to accommodate the emergency drop-in shelter population increase brought by colder weather.

Although the Common Council approved the extra beds last week, Executive Director Paul Anderson-Winchell said Grace Church Community Center begins feeling the season’s pressures in early October.

“Who would have thought we’d have a Halloween snow storm? But we certainly did. What happens during the winter months is the drop-in, emergency population grows for natural reasons. Some of those folks are surviving on the streets or are in places where you can stay when it’s warm and you can’t stay when it’s cold,” said Anderson-Winchell.

The Grace Church Community Center serves referrals from the Westchester Department of Social Services, who tend to stay at the shelters for at least two months, as well as people who need someplace to stay, but are not enrolled in treatment, financial assistance, or other county-run programs. As this emergency shelter need grows, the downtown White Plains shelters work with the county to free up more beds for the drop-in population because few other organizations in Westchester serve those not working with the Department of Social Services.

“Because of where we’re located in the county seat, ourselves, and the Sharing Community in Yonkers really provide the most services to that drop-in population,” said Anderson-Winchell, 56, of Orange County. “The difficulty really is that since 2008 when the rest of the economic world was falling apart, the numbers have gotten high and stay high. We used to see a seasonal drop off. Instead of going from low numbers to high numbers, we go from high numbers to higher numbers.”

The Grace Church Community Center is also hustling to accommodate soup kitchen users and families who cannot afford to put together traditional holiday meals this winter. Grace Community Church estimates it will serve and deliver more than 2,000 meals between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

“We also get a list of people, who tend to be families, who aren’t interested in coming to a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, but really don’t have the resources to put together a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” said Anderson-Winchell. “Our staff will be scrambling to match up donations with the people that need ingredients through Wednesday night.”

Volunteer slots at the Grace Church Community Center soup kitchen on Thanksgiving get locked up by mid-October. However, Anderson-Winchell said the soup kitchen can always use pre-prepared meals or food donations.

“It’s almost like the Yankee tickets. Some of those slots are almost bequeathed to family members who have made volunteering at the soup kitchen a Thanksgiving tradition,” said Anderson-Winchell. “The giving is important to us, but probably almost as important is the community and educational outreach that creates awareness and ambassadors.”

What will your family do this holiday season? Do you have any volunteering traditions? Join the conversation below.

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