Winter Nights Report, October 2018


Every year religious organizations in Contra Costa County band together to provide shelter and warm meals to homeless families and senior citizens. They are our guests.   Our guests live at St. Anselm’s for two weeks in October.  St. Anselm’s provides meals the first week and our partners from other churches  provide meals the second week.

Eva Woo set up St. Anselm’s portion of this year’s program, just as she has in past years. She coordinated with Winter Nights central staff, recruited and instructed St. Anselm’s volunteers, and set the schedule of activities.  She also cooked some of the meals. 

Anne Brown monitored day-to-day activities to ensure things ran smoothly as possible and figured out what to do when they didn’t.   Anne also wrote e-mails to St Anselm’s participants, telling them about the events that took place.   The e-mails tell the human story of this remarkable endeavor with grace, warmth, and hope.  In fact, I’ve been so taken with them that I’ve saved them so you can see them below, unedited.  They make me proud of the parishioners who served our Winter Nights guests this year and the many years that have gone before.

Launch Day, October 8

Good Morning All You Winter Nights Volunteers!

Yesterday was Day 1 for Winter Nights, and, as usual, we’re off to a fast start. The truck with all the tents, sleeping bags, etc., which was supposed to show up at 10 a.m., showed up at 9:30. Fortunately, everyone but I remembered that it’s always early, so Michael Hollinger, Greg Rodalari and Eva Woo were there to greet it and unload. Doug Merrill was there on a whole different mission, but he got roped in to help. When I showed up at 10, everything was already done. I unloaded 3 pillows, and that was it. Greg’s wife had kindly made muffins and brownies to cheer us on and keep our energy up. Despite my almost total lack of contribution, I was invited to indulge, which I did. Both the brownies and the muffins were delicious!

Then, at 3:30, Julie Rickenberger and family, a troop of Boy Scouts and parents, descended on the parish hall, unpacking boxes, setting up tents, scrubbing dirt off the high chair that had been in storage all summer. Everyone was very cheerful, friendly, and willing. By the time the first family arrived at 4:30, we were set up. Those first arrivals were a mom and 4 kids, 2 girls, 11 and 9, and 2 boys, 7 and 6. She also has a 19 year-old son, but he didn’t come till late. Those younger boys are high-energy! They found the church basketball and wanted to go out and shoot baskets. I said I’d come with them. On the way to the hoop, they discovered the pre-school playground and made a bee-line for that. They went on the”zip-line”, climbed everything there was to climb, played with everything not locked up, exhausted me just watching them. Then the older one, Sincere, wanted to go shoot baskets, and Zymir wanted to stay. Fortunately, Marian Mulkey arrived in the knick of time, took over for me in the playground, giving me a blessed time of tranquillity, standing and watching Sincere shoot baskets, with nothing to do but say, “Nice shot!”, “Oops, close but not quite.” Fr. John arrived, gave him the high compliment of calling him Steph Curry, and shooting a couple of baskets with him.

Gradually the other guests arrived – a mom,dad, 13 year-old daughter, and a service dog. Another family, mom, and two sons, 11 and 16. While they were getting settled, Eva was heating up lasagna, pizza, and getting help from a couple of moms with making a Caesar salad and setting up. A couple of the tutors arrived to set up the conference room. Also the Winter Night staff. It was fun to see them again after a year.

We gathered in a circle. Fr.John said grace and we all dove into the food – delicious, familiar comfort food. As is the case every year, some families seem comfortable with being there and are outgoing. Others don’t seem as comfortable and take awhile to adjust.

Our breakfast team – Michael Hollinger, Eva Woo, Sally Roberts, Barbara Thornton, and I are outdoing ourselves this year. In past years, we’ve put out the cereal, bagels, and waffles and made coffee. Eva and Michael got together ahead of time and plotted to up the ante, deciding that Michael would make spam and eggs on Tuesday and Thursday, and Eva would bring quiche on Weds. and Friday – so this morning Michael got there at 5:15 and made spam and eggs while the rest of us put out the cereal, etc. Needless to say, the special breakfast was very popular with the guests – and the team! Thank you, Michael!

We had 12 guests as of yesterday. Another family of 3 is coming tonight and maybe a father and son, possibly bringing the count to 17.

Thanks to all who were there yesterday and this morning. Thanks to all of you who have volunteered.


October 9 and 10

Yesterday Eva e-mailed many of you with our latest guest count and allergy information. As of last night, however, that information was out-dated. Another family arrived, a father and his 6 year-old son. That brought the count to 17, with 6 tents in Jackson Hall. I think we’ve hit our limit!

The guest who is allergic to citrus and ended up in the emergency room on Tuesday night was back yesterday and is fine, no swelling or scabbing. Her husband was a bit the worse for wear, however. He leaves at 4:30 every morning to go to work. Tuesday night he drove her to the emergency room, stayed with her there, and went straight from
there to work. What a sweetheart! Needless to say, he looked and was exhausted. He did manage to stay up through dinner, which was worth it – delicious – but more of that later.

We now have 3 boys, age 6. They are starting to make friends with each other and play together. They are various shades of black and white. At the risk of sounding political, I want to say that it warms my heart to see them together, getting to know each other, just being human beings together.

The 13 year-old girl is great. She plays games with any of the kids young or old who want to play. She was teaching gin rummy to the older ones yesterday.

Back to the Tuesday night dinner – Eva’s long-time running friends, Angela, Elizabeth, and Cheryl provided the dinner. They brought a delicious chicken dish, sliced potatoes with cheese, salad and awesome homemade (by Cheryl) brownies and cookies and ice-cream. They also brought hot dogs and buns. You guessed it! The kids all ate the hot dogs and dessert and ignored most of the healthy, delicious, lovingly-prepared food. Oh, well. I feel so touched and grateful that these women continue with their service and contribution to us, year after year. I’ve gotten so I look forward to seeing them and check Eva’s volunteer list as soon as she sends it, hoping they are on it again. This year was particularly touching, because Cheryl and her husband, who have grown kids, are foster parents. Cheryl’s husband came by with the adorable two year-old boy they are fostering and they joined us for dinner. Thank you to Angela, Elizabeth, and Cheryl.

Last night’s dinner was provided by Vicki and Tom Pappas and an old friend of Eva’s from grad school, Barbara Bevilacqua. Tom and Vicki arrived to prepare the food and promptly put on matching aprons. They got them at a cooking class that they took in a restaurant in San Francisco. I forget the name, so be sure to ask them at coffee hour. I think the experience rubbed off on them, because the chicken they prepared was delicious, with subtle flavoring. They also cooked macaroni and cheese from scratch, right there in our kitchen. They made the sauce with thick cream, so it was wicked good. Barbara brought green beans with garlic and lemon (minus the lemon, of course). It’s a recipe that she’s known for with friends, who always ask her to bring it to potlucks. Even without the lemon, it was delicious. She also brought a salad with home-grown tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette, with home-grown oregano. We had leftover brownies, cookies, and ice cream, so served those again for dessert. Guess what – the kids loved the mac and cheese and mostly ate that. The whole time together was fun, because Barbara has Italian roots and Tom, of course, Greek. I listened in on some interesting conversations as they compared food and visiting experiences. Thank you, Tom, Vicki, and Barbara!

Not to be outdone, the breakfast team, as I reported earlier, has upped the ante, thanks to Michael and Eva. Yesterday morning we had Eva’s yummy quiches. This morning we were treated to a egg and spam omelette, Michael’s creation. Lest you think, “no big deal”, it is. He arrives at 5:15 to begin cooking. All the adults and older kids were very appreciative and enjoyed it a lot, as well as all of us on the breakfast team. Guess what – the younger kids preferred frozen waffles (toasted in the toaster) and hard-boiled eggs. Oh, well…

It’s almost time to go back to Jackson Hall for tonight’s dinner. Peggy Matson and the Fourth Grade Troop will be providing the food. Can’t wait! If you haven’t already guessed, I love to eat.


October 11.

Hi All,

Last night the dinner crew was a 5th grade troop of Girl Scouts, led by Peggy Matson and Rebecca MacDonald. The girls created for us an elegant dinner party setting. They set places at each table with napkins, “silverware”, and glasses. They went outside and gathered up leaves and flowers and made centerpieces for the tables. This wasn’t Peggy and Rebecca’s idea. I overheard the girls asking them for permission to do that. It was very touching, their creation of a message to the guests of “You matter”. All the wonderful meals that we’ve had so far have carried that message. The girls took it to another level.

I’ve played games a couple of times with one of the 6 year-old boys. When he got there yesterday, he asked if I would play with him. His mother said that he needed to do his homework first (wise mom). The tutors were there in the conference room, and he grumpily but obediently went on in with them. His older sister was already there. I went on to do other things in the kitchen. After awhile I checked back and found him sitting on the floor in the library, with five girl scouts. He was teaching them a majorly boring and simplistic board game, which he had taught me the day before. I was pleased that he had the good sense to prefer the girls to me. Other scouts were talking his sister, who is very shy, into playing something with them. Again, I was touched by their engagement with the guests.

After dinner, when the girls were busy cleaning up and leaving, my 6 year-old buddy came looking for me. I was sitting at a table with the dad and his 6 year-old who had just come the night before. Someone had given the little boy a race car to put together, and he was doing that when my buddy approached. The little boy with the car invited the other little boy to help him. Again, I was happily out of a job, glad that the program was working and the kids were making friends and getting along.

Dinner was wonderful – split pea and lentil soup for starters, pulled pork with sesame buns, fresh pineapple on the side, rice, coleslaw with citrus (a warning sign on it about the citrus), and another very healthy salad with kale and brussels sprouts. The latter sounds hair-shirt, but was actually delicious. All this was followed by homemade brownies for dessert. I expect to be 10 pounds heavier by the end of the week.

One thing that’s proving to be difficult for the dinner crew and volunteers is that the numbers and timing of the dinner is more uncertain than in the past. In past years, dinner has been served at 6:30, with all the guests present. This year some of the guests have fluctuating work schedules. The mom with 5 kids usually doesn’t get there until others are already in bed. We’ve been filling 6 plates with food and setting them aside for them. Yesterday they arrived back around 7, so didn’t need us to do their plates. The dad with the 6 year-old typically doesn’t arrive until 7. The mother with 2 sons, who has previously gotten there by dinner time, was late because of work last night, getting there at 7. The numbers are reliable of guests to be fed. However, their arrival times make for uncertainty and some extra work for the dinner crew, needing to clean up. It’s hard to complain, given that the reason is their jobs.

I’m on an airplane right now on my way to Pittsburgh, PA. My sister, who is an Episcopal priest, is retiring. Her last Sunday as rector of her parish is this Sunday. It’s also her birthday, and St. Stephen’s, her parish, is having a good-bye lunch after the service. I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. For years I went back regularly, as my parents aged. After our mom’s death, I went back even more often, because we were subdividing our parents’ property. Whenever there, I would go to St. Stephen’s. It became my church home away from home. I’ve made friends with a number of the parishioners. I want to go to say my good-byes, to hear Nano preach one more time, to celebrate and honor her ministry. Obviously this is not the date I would have chosen, and I feel sad to be missing any of Winter Nights. I am sad to be missing the night that Maureen Nelson, Arthur Powers, and Naomi are the dinner volunteers. Maureen, with whom I made friends at the Women’s Retreat last year, has an incredibly busy work schedule, so I was surprised to see her name on the list and touched by her willingness to serve. I would have loved the opportunity to get to know Arthur better. He has stepped up to fulfill so many roles this past month. I feel grateful and inspired by him and hope more young people like him will show up. I always enjoy being around Naomi. I also feel sad to be missing Eva’s Saturday night Chinese dinner with the famous won ton soup, cooked and taught by her mom. On Sunday, Sara Nelson, Paul Witney, and Toni Bozym will be the team. Besides dinner, Sara is bringing lap quilts as gifts for everyone, including the service dog. They were made by the Community Quilters from Martinez Senior Center, where she is a member.

As always, I feel so grateful to be part of a community with such caring, humanity, and willingness to serve. I love how we don’t stereotype our guests, but treat them as equals. I feel admiration for the guests, who receive with gratitude, who put their best selves forward in what must be a difficult situation – tent living in a group of strangers because of being down on their luck. All of the children are very well-behaved and polite, albeit hyper at times, part of being normal.

On Monday, the next set of churches takes over doing meals. They are Latter Day Saints churches in the area. There will be a different one responsible every day. I will continue to be involved, because they will need coaching about oven, dishwasher, setting out the food for the guests to make their bag lunches, etc. If there is anything interesting to report, I will do so.

I want to thank everyone at St. Anselm’s. We are all involved, even if not bringing meals. For two weeks we give up our parish hall, our coffee hour connections, and all the other activities that happen in Jackson Hall.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge Eva, our ever-ready bunny, who has headed up this program for many years now, recruiting volunteers, not only at St. Anselm’s but from her friends. She buys all the supplies ahead of time, then does shopping all during the week when we run out. She’s on the breakfast team. She stops in every evening. I love how she relates to the families, with interest, friendliness, and respect. We’ve spoken about the one mother, who was very reserved at first, seeming unhappy and unapproachable. Eva’s the one who got her to smile and talk about herself. Eva also has given the Winter Nights Program Manager feedback about what isn’t working, particularly with one of the staff this year. She’s good at setting limits, something I admire greatly. She’s a treasure.

With love and gratitude to all of you who made a contribution this year to this very worthwhile program,