Volunteers needed at homeless shelter

Kelly McCommons

The Room at the Inn homeless shelter in Marquette runs solely on volunteers — from community members to students — to keep it afloat. Room at the Inn volunteers Dick and Kristy Salo raised four children and fostered around 110 kids in their lifetime.

They now boast six grandchildren and a happy retirement from Cleveland Cliffs Iron mining company and as an administrator for a law firm for 18 years. They now they spend their time helping with the Marquette homeless center, providing breakfast on Tuesday mornings in Marquette.

“I got a call one day from someone that the homeless shelter needed food on Tuesday mornings,” Kristy Salo said. “I turned to my husband and said, ‘I think this is God’s calling us to help.’”

The pair has provided their time and money at the shelter, from used clothing to basic toiletries. Kristy Salo’s husband Dick Salo recalled a relationship with one of the shelter guests a year ago.

“We had pasties for supper one night, and this woman came up to me and told me ‘I could eat another pasty, but I’m embarrassed,’” Dick Salo said. “I told her she didn’t have to be, so I fixed her up another one. When she got back, she saw the pasty with tears in her eyes. She then said she hadn’t had anything to eat in three days.”

That Christmas, the couple hired the woman to help decorate their home for the holidays. Dick Salo said he recalls a moment that stunned the both of them.

“She sat down on the couch when we were watching TV that night, turned around and said, ‘I’m spellbound, I’m in a home, with a TV, where it’s warm,’” Dick Salo said. “Moments like that make this a really worthwhile cause.”

The Room at the Inn is doing volunteer training to all interested students and community members from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16.

They offer volunteer training sessions on the third Thursdays of every month. All new volunteers are required to attend a training session before working at Room at the Inn. You can call 906-227-9171 to sign up groups, but individuals are not required to register.

One of the Room at the Inn coordinators, Mary Stunkard, said this training session really gives potential volunteers an idea of how things will go at the shelter. “At these meetings, we talk about the history (of the shelter), and policies, and guest criteria,” Stunkard said. “Our primary goal is to make our guests feel comfortable.”

Stunkard said the homeless shelter reaches well beyond the Marquette area.

“There’s a network of people that call around try to find an empty bed for homeless shelters,” Stunkard said. “I know Escanaba just opened one up.”

Stunkard noted that many students volunteer at the shelter. “We appreciate our students. We wish they’d stay around during Christmas and Spring Break,” Stunkard said.

Social work major Jon Egedus said he liked how Room at the Inn respected all guests at the shelter. “I was surprised how much they cared for these people,” Egedus said. “[They] protect their dignity, and they really respect their guests.”

Another NMU student majoring in social work, junior Jonathon Close, reinstated the importance of the shelter in Marquette and getting students involved. “If a third (of the students) came out, this place would really grow,” Close said. “If any place needs a shelter, it’s the U.P.”

For more information on Room at the Inn or volunteer training, visit their website at www.roomattheinn.org.