Nine Dallas High School graduates, along with many other volunteers, took the opportunity this Christmas season to look beyond their own holiday wishes, reaching out to care for the needs of a group of people who otherwise may not have had a merry Christmas: the homeless.
Rebecca Stull and Emily Collins, both freshmen at Temple University, gathered a group of friends, including Kaylin Russell, Kelly Healey, Catherine Coslett, Dana Jolley, Morgan Dingle, Elizabeth Hoover and Yael Chodosh to volunteer during Christmas at Camp Orchard Hill.
The event, now in its fourth year, ran from Dec. 17 to 31, during which time a group of about 25 homeless men were given beds to sleep in, a place to shower, three meals a day, recreational opportunities, Christmas presents and friendly people with whom to share the holiday. The camp's event was one stop in an ongoing program run by Mother Theresa Shelter, a subdivision of Catholic Social Services.
Stull, Collins and their friends volunteered Dec. 27, working in the kitchen. Stull explained they helped out with whatever needed doing, such as serving food, cleaning up and simply sitting and talking with the guests. The group also volunteered during last year's event, doing the same things. The year before, Stull and Collins volunteered during a similar Easter event at the camp for their senior project when they were juniors at Dallas High School.
When asked why they keep coming back, Collins said, We just enjoyed being around the men and doing something for them.
Stull said the best part of the event is Christmas Day, which might otherwise be a depressing time for the homeless men in attendance. They get presents and everyone comes together, which makes it easier to go through hard times, she said.
Stull's mother, Lisa Stull, who organizes the event each year, praised the girls for their assistance, saying they decided on their own to help, without being asked. She said the camp is fortunate to have many such volunteers.
One group, she said, came all the way from New Jersey this year. Congregants of the Evangelical Free Church, of Blairstown, New Jersey, traveled to the camp on Christmas Eve to share their candlelight service with the homeless men, returning home the same night.
Lisa Stull said over 500 volunteers participated the first year the camp was held. She also invites those in the community who are alone or hurting during the holidays.
We see it as an outreach not only to the homeless, she said, but to people in the community who come to serve. Generally, no one leaves here unaffected.
She said one thing that inspires her to continue the event each year is the biblical story of Mary and Joseph and how there was no room for them at the inn the night of Jesus' birth.
These men are homeless, she said. Joseph and Mary were homeless that night. Jesus was born homeless. Every year, I find that story more and more true with the homeless people. There is no room for them at the inn.