Volunteers wanted to staff winter shelter at downtown church

Monday, December 20, 2010 | 7:04 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Last year, full shelters and bitter temperatures caused Missouri United Methodist Church to open its multipurpose room to people in need of overnight shelter.

This year, the church is opening its doors again with its "Room at the Inn" program, which begins Jan. 1 and runs through February.

How to help

To volunteer or for other information related to "Room at the Inn," contact the Rev. Keith Vessell at the church, 443-3111, or by e-mail at
Donations are welcome, including:
  • Twin-size blankets
  • Individually wrapped, nonperishable goods. Examples include protein bars, Ensure "Muscle Health" liquid meals, Lance peanut bars, peanut butter crackers, trail mix with nuts, Carnation Instant Breakfast bottles, granola bars with nuts, bags of peanuts, honey buns and danishes.

Donations may be dropped off at the first-floor welcome desk or second-floor offices of the church, 204 S. Ninth St.

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“This year we wanted to be proactive and thought January and February would be the coldest months,” said Keith Vessell, associate pastor at Missouri United Methodist.

Vessell is looking for 10 volunteers a day to help staff the shelter for the two months. He is reaching out to the community for volunteers by connecting with people he has worked with, e-mailing other churches and organizations, and tweeting about the event.

“You don’t have to be part of a faith community to volunteer," Vessell said. "We are open to connecting to anyone, including other service organizations.”

Volunteers are needed to work nights from 8:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. This is broken into three shifts with different roles:

  • 8:30 p.m.-midnight: Setting up the room, including the cots, and helping shelter residents settle in. Police will be on site during these hours.
  •  8:30 p.m.-7:30 a.m.: Overseeing the facility, providing safety, cleaning up and setting out breakfast.
  •  6:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.: Cleaning up and getting the area ready for the day's events.

The approximate cost for heating the winter shelter is $110 per night, and security is $90-$120, according to the church's website. Of the projected $12,000 total cost, $3,500 has been raised so far, Vessell said.

The city of Columbia will provide cots, and various area churches will bring coats for the residents.

The Salvation Army is also set to lend a hand but has no firm plans yet. “We are wanting to collaborate with anyone in Columbia to keep people out of the frosty, frigid, freezing weather,” said Maj. K. Kendall Mathews, regional coordinator for Columbia and Jefferson City.

Tyler Page, who volunteered last year and plans to do so this year, said that given the need in Columbia, the community should respond to help.

"I will be able to provide the time and labor while others may be able to provide financial support,” Page said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see people sleep outside in the cold," he said. "(Volunteering) is an opportunity for me to at least to provide a roof over someone’s head.”

Last year, the church turned the multipurpose room into a shelter quickly when other shelters in the city filled up during a weeklong cold snap. Vessell said the number of people in need grew as the week went on. He anticipates that 30 to 40 people will use the church shelter this year.

The minimum expectation is that it will be a warm and safe place for the residents, he said. “In a great world, we won’t have a shelter for very long," Vessell said. "I would love to see a longer term plan for the residents' housing.”

According to, the average low temperatures for Columbia in January is about 18 degrees but has hit a record low of minus 20. That kind of cold can lead to severe frostbite and hypothermia.

“A large percentage of people that end up being homeless happen in ways that any of us could fall into," Vessell said. "I would love people to volunteer and get to know some of the residents. It breaks barriers when you know people’s individual stories.”

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