Lifting Spirits of the Unhoused

At the start of the pandemic, Santa Clara County shut down pretty much everything for three weeks. That was back in March. I’ve been serving unhoused women at Lifted Spirits for three years, and it was devastating to see our program closed. We qualified as an essential service, but protecting volunteers from COVID seemed daunting.

Undeterred, we figured out a way to serve the women that came to our program and dubbed it Lifted Spirits Lite. Gone were the days of respite from the street, hot meals, and a place to nap and socialize for a few hours, all the things we were known for. It was no longer deemed safe to invite women indoors.

Instead, we served women from behind an iron fence, lined with clear shower curtains. Masks were a must, along with hand-washing every thirty minutes. Patio tables pushed up on our side of the fence enforced physical distance from our clients. We were able to serve in what we now call “contactless” engagement. What strange times we’re in!

We rolled out racks of clothing and toiletries at the start of each shift. We provided the essentials: feminine hygiene needs, adult diapers for sleeping rough, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and other items critical for well-being. Hand sanitizer, along with face coverings and wet wipes rose to the top of the list.

Toiletry cart filled with essentials and ready to roll outdoors

We stocked our racks of clothing all summer long: shorts and dresses were available, along with t-shirts, straw hats, pants, and scarves, all donated by women in our community.

Lifted Spirits Lite: Outdoors behind our fence

A generous board member donated boxed lunches each week, and we had extra water on hand to get us through the hot, horrible summer filled with smoky skies and unhealthy air.

I knew we couldn’t continue our services outdoors during the winter months, but as the pandemic dragged on, it was clear we had to adjust once again. It took weeks of planning, testing, input from volunteers and board members, but in the end, we came up with a way to serve the women in a more sheltered way.

Sheltered area at the back of the building near garden

We created a volunteer position called the gatekeeper. I set up three stations allowing our volunteers to be indoors, one in the lobby and two more along the building’s back. A handyman repaired the walkway for safe passage, we purchased two large canopies and created a sheltered area along the back of our building, once a church. Claridge donated five rolling, tempered-glass screens, which we use as a barrier between volunteers and clients.

Donated Claridge Screens

It’s been a hit with the women we serve. They pass through our decorated lobby, one at a time, affording them privacy when making requests. They exit through the kitchen and wait for the clothing station under the canopies in a garden setting. We roll out a rack of shoes for self-service.

Lifted Spirits Lobby – Toiletries Station on the right

Women can choose two outfits per day at the clothing station. They can pick out a warm jacket or coat if needed and lots of wonderful extras like gloves, hand-knit scarves, and knit caps. They visit the final station for lunch and a few pantry items. The gatekeeper escorts them through another gate, where they exit on the sidewalk. This avoids passing others and allows for social distancing among our clients as well. Our gatekeepers wear a mask and a face shield for safety.

It’s an exhausting shift requiring a different approach with each woman’s unique challenges and needs, but at the same time, they are my favorite hours of the week. Getting to know the women, encouraging them, listening to their stories, all the while helping them choose an outfit or two is rewarding. It’s not about the clothes, but about the normalcy of “shopping” for an outfit in your favorite color or style. I’ve learned a lot. I work with amazing volunteers. We all support each other.

I really enjoy the behind-the-scenes work as well. It appeals to my love of organizing, merchandising, clothing, and decorating. It’s fun learning a woman’s style and setting aside items in her size and favorite color. Keep in mind that everything is donated, and many things are dated. It feels good filling needs.

We created a small Christmas celebration this week, serving close to 40 unhoused women in two hours. Our Board chair and his son played Christmas songs while the women waited in line. We assembled Christmas bags filled with soft grey hoodies, a $25 Target gift card, fuzzy socks, and other personal goodies. Mary ordered boxed lunches with a traditional turkey sandwich, and Sharon baked cookies in her scrupulously sanitized kitchen. Our new director passed out the gifts and offered hot chocolate after they picked up lunch. Barbara handed out socks, new underwear, and other essentials, dressed as the slimmest Santa you’ve ever seen.

I staffed the clothing station most of the time, and helped troubleshoot in the parking lot when problems arose. All the planning paid off. We generally serve 30 women a day, but we planned for 40. We served 37 in the first two hours, and we’re able to provide lunch and gifts to two late arrivals. I’m so relieved that it all came together.

Of course real success would be knowing these women were tucked into bed tonight, warm and safe, well-fed and at ease.

It should be criminal to allow men and women to live, unhoused, in a country with such immense wealth. It’s unconscionable. Our vision is to put ourselves out of business because everyone is safely housed. For now, I’ll continue to lift the spirits of others, as I work to keep my chin up.

I hope you are safe and warm, and most of all, healthy as we count down to the end of this dreadful year.

The Elephant in the Room

I’ll start with a bit of levity from a Facebook post shared by a friend:

I’m either coming out of this quarantine 20 pounds lighter, chakras balanced and a house full of completed craft projects or 20 pounds heavier with a drinking problem.” – Spiritual Thug

I’m signing up for the former. I’ve lost six of the ten pounds I gained during my couch-bound, post-surgery recovery, simply by moving again. No doubt my metabolism slowed to a crawl. The first time I put my fitness watch back on, it celebrated 1,000 steps. It’s all relative.

Now that I can sit with my feet on the floor, I’m also enjoying crafts. I’ve started by playing with some new watercolor markers, then on to a Washi tape card. I love playing with that tape. It’s oddly therapeutic.

Tail ends of Washi tape

Front of Washi tape card

Finished Washi tape card

Sometime last year I found vintage French seed packet labels, intending to make them into cards for a friend. I came up with corny quotes to match and that was as far as I got. This week I followed through to completion, not only making the cards but getting them packaged and mailed.

Seed packet labels

Authentique paper

Even the paper scrap has a French name

Cards made with vintage French seed packet labels

Seed packet cards

Inside cards: Cover-inspired puns printed on tracing paper

A trio of seed packet cards

Close-up of vintage seed packet label

My friend’s trip to her beloved Paris is canceled, so this is a little pick-me-up and a surprise.

After finishing the cards, I repurposed a page from an old gardening calendar. I save and reuse wall calendars for crafts. I had to piece it in a few places to get the size I needed. It’s such a gorgeous photograph of a flower and bee. I wish I could give the photographer a proper credit.

Pieced edges of calendar used to complete envelope

Finished cards tucked into garden calendar page envelope

The exterior of the completed envelope

Sealed with a paper key

There’s nothing new I can share here about the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM except to say that I’m working hard to tamp down my anxiety on a daily basis. I’m stretching in the morning before I even get out of bed. I’m touching my toes, just because I can. I’m also pulling weeds in the garden until my foot screams at me to stop.

That’s my signal to retreat to the couch with an ice pack and Mouse the Cat pressed to my hip.

Mouse loves his couch time

I’m a hugger by nature, so if I could, and only if appropriate, I would gather you in a warm embrace and say that it’s all going to be okay.¬†For now, (((((you)))))

Be well.