Nevada County volunteers essential to homeless services (VIDEO) |

Nevada County volunteers essential to homeless services (VIDEO)

Photo for The Union by Christopher Rosacker

Without its volunteers, Hospitality House would not keep its doors open, its administrators say.

“That is why they are the backbone of our operation. We couldn’t do it without them,” said Cindy Maple, the organization’s executive director.

Initially, Hospitality House started feeding and busing Nevada County’s homeless people to 28 churches for overnight shelter with the help of approximately 40 volunteers and eight churches.

“There has not been a night in the last nine years where we have not had a place of shelter for the homeless, and we give thanks to our faith community for that,” said the Rev. Don Lee, a cofounder and former board president of Hospitality House.

“It is truly a place of community where everyone puts their agendas aside to help. I’ve never really been a part of something like that. It’s pure in that way.”
— Hlynn Metz, Hospitality House volunteer

Nine years later, the organization is supported by more than 300 people who logged more than 20,000 volunteer hours in 2012, Maple said.

“Their value is more than our entire operating budget,” Maple said.

More than $230,000 of Hospitality House’s $410,000 in total 2011 revenue came from donations, private grants and other kinds of gifts, according to its tax records. More than 50 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue comes from private donations, Maple said.

With a couple months left to go in its fiscal filing year, Hospitality House has already surpassed its donations from last year by more than $22,000, Maple said.

More than 5,000 people have contributed to Hospitality House since its 2004 formation, and in recent years, nearly 1,000 donors have contributed annually, she said.

“Almost all of those who donated lavishly wish to be anonymous, and as we honor that decision, we acknowledge them in silence — and with all our hearts,” said Joanna Robinson, cofounder of Hospitality House, president of its board of directors and widow of Utah Phillips, another of the organization’s cofounders.

Kent Riffey, a former Navy man and a retired engineering consultant, has been a volunteer and donor since the beginning.

“The reason I help is because it is the right thing to do,” Riffey said. “If others don’t help, then they have ice water in their veins instead of red blood.”

Riffey’s involvement stems from his work on Grass Valley United Methodist Church’s council, on which he still serves, as well as its finance committee.

That monetary arm of the church has an ongoing line item funding Hospitality House, Riffey said, which means that in addition to his personal donations to that entity, a portion of his ecclesiastical offerings are also channeled to the nonprofit.

Riffey’s commitment to Hospitality House doesn’t end at financial support. He has also long volunteered for the organization.

Maple called Riffey her “snow hero” because of his actions several years ago during a particularly debilitating winter deluge.

Hospitality House’s nomadic, rotating shelter model is vulnerable to storms.

Not only can a storm disable the buses that transport guests to a different church each night, it can prohibit volunteers from delivering the food they make at home and take to whichever church is hosting those guests on any given night.

With no food available, Riffey hopped in his two-wheel drive small pickup truck en route to a local grocery store to get food, only to get stuck. He has since purchased an all-wheel drive truck rather than stop delivering food.

“There is no decision to be made,” Riffey said. “If we don’t help, they don’t eat. It’s that simple.”

Touching on something that many of Hospitality House’s religiously affiliated volunteers cited, Riffey referenced the Bible’s Matthew 25:40: “(W)hatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“When you peel it back, churches feel this need to help others, regardless of denomination,” Riffey said. “This is a mission of community support for a group in need.”

Those volunteers come from organization as diverse as evangelical churches to yoga studios. Its faith partners include the wide spectrum of Christian institutions, as well as Jewish, Buddhist and unitarian organizations.

“Our differences aren’t as big as we think they are,” said Gary Grube, a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church who, along with his wife, has volunteered at Hospitality House for three years.

“We always felt the need to give back to the community you live in,” Linda Grube said. “I always felt that sharing a meal is one of the greatest gifts.”

The Grubes have served a wide range of needs at Hospitality House. They have provided food, monitored overnight shelters and helped coordinate, too. Both cited their faith as spurring them to volunteer.

“God is our partner in this,” Linda said. “We take our direction from him.”

But churches and their congregants aren’t Hospitality House’s sole support group. People like Hlynn Metz started to volunteer after an injury kept her from a career in the psychiatric field.

“Most of our volunteers are unseen. They cook and bring it in, and someone else serves it,” Metz said. “You probably only see 20 percent of the volunteers actually at the (Welcome Center),” located on South Church Street in Grass Valley.

Volunteers not only make friends among one another, but they forge bonds with Hospitality House guests.

Metz recalled a volunteer she trained whose only exposure to a homeless person was driving by someone holding a sign. She volunteered to alleviate a sense of guilt she formed from that.

“She had no idea what homelessness was all about,” Metz said. “I can see how different she is now. She is very comfortable with the guests now. It’s very different than when she started.”

Volunteers do more than serve food. They organize events, monitor shelters, survey guests, connect them to services, check in their possessions, provide essentials or simply talk with them.

“I love working there; it is one of the places where there is very little politics among the volunteers,” Metz said.

“Everyone I have worked with there are just there because they love to help others. It is truly a place of community where everyone puts their agendas aside to help. I’ve never really been a part of something like that. It’s pure in that way.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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