It was dark when I left home at 6 AM for the University Park Church of Christ 12 miles away. I was picking up two women, guests of our town's WinterShelter program. Local congregations take turns hosting homeless men and women for one week each from the first week of December through mid-March. The guests get a warm place to sleep. They receive a hot meal in the evening and a cold breakfast in the morning before leaving the shelter for the day at 7 AM.
Some congregations have enough room to house both men and women during their week, but most have space for just men or just women. During the current two-week period, no Laurel congregation has been able to take the women, so volunteers have been driving the women to a church in the Hyattsville area every evening and bringing them back to Laurel in the morning.
Shelter numbers have been down lately because of the unseasonably warm weather. Warm weather also means carefree driving, with no worries about ice or snow. With Christmas music on the radio, hot coffee in my travel mug and Christmas lights on houses along the way, it was a pleasant drive. Approaching the University of Maryland, I saw 2 dozen sparkling green pistons pumping up and down in the darkness. What kind of Christmas lights were these? Turned out to be a university track team running in place at the curb, waiting for the light to change on heavily-travelled US Route One, which cuts through the campus. The shiny tape on their running shoes created the illusion of sparkles.
At the church, three women--not two--needed rides to Laurel. The newcomer explained that she had dropped out of the shelter for the past few nights. When the shelter moved to the next church on Sunday, she lost track of her belongings. All her clean work clothes were in one bag and Christmas gifts for her six grandchildren were in another. With any luck, the bags will have been taken to First Methodist, where the men are staying this week, and she'll get them back with nothing missing.
Passing the University of Maryland, she said she'd love to go back to the food-service job she'd once gotten there "after Obama was elected." "I love serving people," she said. She lost the job when the university let go a dozen of the most recently-hired employees to save money. Another woman commented on all the bars lining Route One. "Too many kids in there, when they should be studying," she said. "My son drinks too much," said the third. 'He has his kids every other weekend. I hope he doesn't drive them around when he's drunk. I tell him, 'Do your drinking down in the basement and stay home.'"
A car with a blasting radio pulled up beside us at a light. The conversation turned to the teen-age boys who were shot when some guy got mad because their car radio was too loud. The next topic was the shootings in San Bernadino. "What kind of woman would leave her baby with the grandma and go out and shoot people like that?" asked one. Another said, "My dad says, 'The lawyers were trying to say he was a good man. But he had all those bullets and pipe bombs. Don't sound like no kind of good man to me.'"
I left them at McDonald's and went home to read the paper.