Lions are fresh from our Multiple District Convention in Fairbanks. The last four days of April Lions across Alaska met for amazing training for our leaders and inspirational speakers to inspire the membership.
While there, leaders of various clubs come to share their yearly work with each other about their work throughout their respective communities.
One amazing club is the Bethel Lions who run the Bethel Winter House. It serves those who are homeless, or temporarily on the streets from December through March in Bethel. Bethel is know as a Bush community as it is not on the road system. In Bethel, where the temperatures can drop to well below zero for extended periods of time Lions saw a need to help the homeless in their community. It is only open during the winter months, December through March.
For some, Bethel Winter House is a vital if rough sanctuary that can draw a dozen to more than 20 people a night. Sometimes, it’s at the edge of survival, the same as the people it serves. It struggles financially to keep running.
To be allowed into the shelter for the night people cannot be inebriated. Most every night, people walk a couple of miles or more to the shelter then huddle outside until the doors open at 9 p.m. To save on energy bills, the thermostat is set at 65 degrees, and the main gathering room feels chilly. With all the bodies, though, the shared sleeping space warms right up.
At Winter House, home-cooked food from a rotation of volunteers is dished up each night — soups and stews, pasta and goulash. Some mornings, guests are offered cold cereal and are out the door by 7 a.m. But lately, with the extreme cold, the Salvation Army’s Loni Upshaw lets everyone sleep in to 8 a.m. or so, then cooks up pancakes, or waffles.
Some guests say they have homes, or family to stay with in dry villages and come to Bethel to drink. Some come for work, or medical care. It doesn’t really matter.
“All are welcome here for whatever reason,” Coffey said. “I don’t want anyone freezing to death even if they are an alcoholic.” The reasons for being there are as numerous as the guests.
There are rules. No alcohol inside. No drinking from bottles stashed outside. No violence, no cussing, no acting out. Bags are searched and everyone who wants to sleep there is patted down. If they are too intoxicated, they can’t stay here. It’s not safe for anybody.
Bethel Lions and Winter House are making a difference for Bethel. Lives are being saved.
Yes, ordinary Lions doing extrodinary things. If you would like to learn more about being a Lion visit www.lionsclubs.org.