By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
“God has been tapping me on the shoulder for the past ten years,” says Leslie Reichert, member of the United Presbyterian Church in Whitinsville.
Situations and certain people kept dropping into her vision, as though calling her to take action. The only problem was, the situations were a lot easier to ignore, and caused a few arguments with the Big Guy, especially when she drove down Hill Street. “Why me? I’m so busy. I don’t have a clue. Where do I start?”
The people in her vision all had the same need. They were cold. They needed a place to stay. They were lost. I’m one of them, she said to herself while shivering on the football field, while her eyes settled on the sleeping girl in the gazebo, or on the man who zoomed passed her on the road, his interior heater the only means to keep his family warm. A scripture floated through her mind. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” (Matthew 25:40) That’s when she pulled into her driveway and made a decision. That lady in the gazebo is one of the least of mine. I have to do something.
Blackstone Valley Shelter is a temporary emergency shelter located in the basement of the United Presbyterian Church, at 51 Cottage Street in Whitinsville. It is designed to serve “anybody in need of a nice warm place to stay.” Founded and managed by Leslie Reichert, the shelter has just completed a “trial season” on the heels of her outreach to the Board of Health, the town building inspector, the fire chief, local church leaders, Catholic Charities, and state regulators. Certified from February 1 to March 31 of this year, the shelter was open for thirty-five days, reaching its maximum amount under the state’s requirements and regulated by temperature. If the temp fell under fifteen degrees or less, or if there was three or more inches of snow, the shelter remained open.
Reichert’s plans through the spring and fall are to solicit the support of churches in the Blackstone Valley to become involved in her program so that she can expand services by extending the number of days for which the shelter can stay open. Her immediate goal is to get three more churches involved in the Blackstone Valley region in order to maximize the benefit for those in need. “The last season was about getting our feet wet and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Pastor Renn Serna has been wonderful,” she said. “She tackles the administrative side of things. I’m good at ideas but awful with follow-through.”
If you’d like to help, Leslie welcomes any donation amount (twenty-five dollars pays for one yoga mat). Blackstone Valley Shelter currently has enough blankets, which are given away for guests to take home upon leaving, along with a beauty bag.
The shelter is open for three shifts, each staffed by volunteers: 7 – 11 p.m. is the first; 11p.m. – 3 a.m., the second; and 3 a.m. – 7 a.m., the third. The second and third shifts, last season, seemed to be the most difficult to staff. Interested volunteers for next season, slated to begin on November 1, are asked to contact Leslie at 508-266-5122 and/or apply on-line at www.whitinspres.org/schedule. Volunteers are required to undergo a short training session and, during their time at the shelter, stay awake to monitor guests, enjoy a board game, or even work on their own laptops.
“On March 30, the day before we closed for the season, I received four phone calls from people who needed a space to stay,” Reichert recounts. “One girl called me at one a.m. in the torrential rain. She and her one-year-old needed a warm place to stay and I had to turn her down. My real goal is to not have to look into the eyes of people who really need us and have to say back, ‘I can’t help you.’”
Leslie’s formula is simple: The more churches involved, the greater her capacity to serve a person who, very likely, is just a step away from where you and I might be.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Contact Blackstone Valley Shelter at 508-266-5122.
Leslie Reichert also works as a cleaning coach for those who are considering “going green” but may not know where to start. She was well known in the Valley as the owner of the Back Door Vacuum Shop in Uxbridge, which she closed as a physical location four years ago and moved online to www.greencleaningcoach.com. Since then she has appeared on television, radio, and in numerous publications. Her online book and video provide cleaners with a collection of simple recipes to clean green in the kitchen.
Write to Amy at [email protected]