Mary’s story

Mary volunteers at Birmingham Churches Night Shelter – a community of churches and organisations that provide shelter, an evening meal, breakfast and friendship to homeless people in Birmingham during the coldest winter months. Mary writes about what volunteering there means to her and how she lives out the gospel through her work.

“For the past three years I have volunteered with Birmingham Churches Night Shelter, which provides temporary shelter for the homeless. I first became involved because our parish made a commitment to participate, along with 13 other churches in the city.

“The project means there is temporary shelter for three months for 12 homeless men. This is just a drop in the ocean of the problem, but for some of the men who over the years have been able to turn their lives around it is a ‘drop’ of great significance.

“As a citizen of Birmingham, the second city of the land, I feel the hopelessness of so many homeless people whenever I am in the city centre.

I don’t like to accept hopelessness. Where there is life, there is hope and I believe we are all called to give witness to the hope of the gospel message.

“I believe that if we don’t do that in a tangible way in our own lives, we have to question how we can go to Mass each week and not respond to the needs around us. It saddens me also that our nation appears to be adopting a far less tolerant approach to those less fortunate than ourselves. Over half a century ago, great movements were set up to deal with the problem of homelessness, yet the problem remains and has increased significantly.

Through volunteering and meeting so many other able, generous volunteers my faith in the goodness of people is restored and I can see how small acts of kindness inspire more generosity and support.

“I am now Co-ordinator of our shelter and I get so much from the 45 volunteers who help in a variety of ways, such as making beds, cooking, cleaning, and befriending our guests. The guests also give us so much. So many are talented, able, intelligent people, who have found themselves in hard places and caught in the spiral of disadvantage in our unforgiving system.

“A tangible way in which one small step in volunteering can lead to bigger ventures is in the establishment of a permanent shelter which will be set up in our former parish club.

“I would say to anybody thinking about volunteering to come and see any project in action. You will see that sometimes just being present is very powerful. A kind encouraging word or a cup of tea made for a guest or another volunteer can serve to reel you into the community of volunteers and to see that, no matter how small your contribution, you can make a difference.

“Volunteers help out at our shelter for as little as an hour to make beds, wash up or just to play cards with the guests. Others can offer longer, from eight hours on the overnight shift to two hours cooking or socialising. It really is a world in which people can fit in according to their own time constraints and interests.

What any volunteer does could be described as a drop in the ocean. But I believe that for those we work with the ‘drops’, make a world of difference. There are many examples of people beginning the journey to a better quality of life as a result of small offerings from volunteers.

“Volunteering has opened my eyes to the issues of homelessness and the complexity of the problem. It has also given me a vast range of people from so many different walks of life who I can now consider friends. It has also helped me to spread the message that good people inspired and sustained by their Christian faith can make a difference in our city.”

You can find out more about the Birmingham Churches Night Shelter and how to support them on their website.

If Mary’s story has inspired you to find out more about volunteering, we can help match up your interests, availability and skills with the needs of our member organisations or groups. To get involved, fill in this short form, email it to admin@caritas-aob.org.uk and we will find out who needs who, what, when and where.