a special message from the director of
Upper Room of Erie, a homeless shelter

Christmas at the Upper Room

Christmas at the Upper Room began the week before, when we started digging out our boxes of decorations from the storeroom. Over the years we’ve accumulated several boxes of miscellaneous and un-matched items donated by many which are put on the tree by guests and staff who get tired of looking at the untrimmed branches. At Christmas plus 7 days we’re starting to look festive.

And what’s a Christmas party without cookies? Baking cookies in our host church’s (St. Paul’s UCC) kitchen on day plus 3 is a major project. We have to bring together volunteer bakers willing to produce hundreds of sprinkle-topped creations from a store bought mix, relearn how to use the gas-fired ovens, and most importantly, decide how many cookie dough balls should go on a baking sheet. Our advisor (my wife) says twelve; volunteer Mike hates open space and says twenty would be more efficient. Twenty per sheet results in square cookies; twelve produces round ones. Mike doesn’t care. So, we end up with a mix of round and square. They all taste good. Soon six filled containers are cooling in the refrigerator awaiting Christmas day. Hot chocolate is also in the plan.

Christmas music isn’t forgotten. Our radio brings us two stations playing it non-stop. On TV we have “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott. It’s my personal favorite of the several versions. Scrooge has to compete with regular programming, however. Football always wins. No one seems to mind.

Saturday brings a new project. A donor has brought one hundred pairs of winter gloves which my wife and I put in Christmas bags with color holiday stickers. Soon our table is covered with the gift bags now containing gloves, socks donated by our church, and donated McDonalds coupons. They will be greatly appreciated.

Christmas morning at last. We open for business at 8:30 AM. Snow is falling lightly, and downtown Erie seems deserted. Even the nearby McDonalds is closed. At the Upper Room two coffee makers are bubbling with hot chocolate, and the cookies are artfully arranged on trays. An early morning donor has given us bunches of poinsettias to brighten the table. Today we have a special helper. Jessica has been brought (and volunteered) by her mom to do community service with us. In her elf’s hat she passes out gift bags and refreshes the cookie trays. She seems to be enjoying her work.

The Upper Room will be open all day, just as we have been since 1995. We’ll be visited by over one hundred poor and homeless people, and they are in luck! Emmaus Soup Kitchen serves a holiday dinner thanks to a crew of volunteers from the nearby Russian Church that celebrates Christmas on another day. Their presence gives the Benedictine sisters and the regular crew a Christmas gift of time off.

At four O’clock we’ll close, and the staff will go home to their usual celebrations. Our guests will disperse to wherever they can find shelter. We hope they take comfort in the feeling of being part of a large family that we have attempted to give them. Tomorrow, we’ll open again and our hospitality will continue. We thank our supporters for giving us the encouragement to do it.

Peace, love, and happiness to everyone.

Tom Schlaudecker
Jan 4, 2013

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