Help, hope, family and good will in Glenwood
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
There’s great honesty in Donna Robert’s eyes and words.
This isn’t an act. There’s nothing forced. Donna Roberts wants to be here.
At the Extended Table dinner on a recent Tuesday night, Donna listens intently to a woman. The woman is homeless. They both smile as the conversation continues. Donna reaches out and the woman eagerly accepts the hug.
“Do you need some propane?” Donna asks.
“No, I’m OK,” the homeless woman answers.
Then George arrives. Donna and George talk. Donna has a warm embrace for George too.
“Call me if you need anything,” Donna says as George heads for the cold outdoors.
One by one, the people leave the warm confines of the basement inside the First United Methodist Church on Cooper Avenue in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Zipping their coats, pulling on their gloves and wool caps, they return to the freezing night. For many, home is a tent, a tarp, a place with no walls.
It will be a cold night, but they won’t be hungry.
On this night, a dinner of ham, roasted potatoes, salad, and exquisite desserts with colorful frosting was served.
“Good night Miss Donna,” a man says as he departs.
Miss Donna smiles and waves.
Now in her ninth year volunteering at the Extended Table, 43-year-old Miss Donna Roberts says it’s a calling.
“This was what God called me to do,” she says, smiling.
The Extended Table is open Monday through Friday for dinner and each night a different church gathers members of its congregation to prepare and serve dinner to 30, 40, 50 or more people.
More chairs are filled in the winter and during the holidays. Many, but not all, are homeless.
Tuesday nights, Miss Donna and members of the New Creation Church near Canyon Creek, do their part. There’s three different groups who rotate every Tuesday.
Donna doesn’t have to be here. She looks at the crew in the kitchen and says they can get the job done without her.
Donna wants to be here.
As Miss Donna strolls between the tables and chats with the men and woman who have come for a free hot meal, there’s a warmth that comes from the conversation.
“We are family,” Donna says. “You can’t fake this. They will see right through you.”
There’s more than 60 people eating on this night. Donna knows at least 75 percent of the people who come on Tuesdays. She knows their names, their stories, their hopes and dreams, and yes, their struggles.
She is not here to judge, far from it. She’s here to be a friend, offer help, offer hope. She is here as one of God’s foot soldiers. She hopes to make a difference, but she knows the crowd. She understands that some do not want to listen to God’s words.
The word of God is what guides Donna and she wants others to share her faith. But she wouldn’t think of forcing her beliefs onto people who are not interested.
Preaching and offering gentle pulls and pushes toward religious faith is part of her calling. But she’s careful.
“Some people are open to your ministry. Others are not.”
She smiles. She’s learned a lot over her nine years of volunteering at the Extended Table.
“Sometimes you preach without ever saying a word,” she says.
Donna believes that her love of God and her compassion is contagious.
Every night at 5 p.m., grace is said, then dinner is served.
She describes her work with an interesting analogy, using the words loyalty and faithfully.
“A dog is loyal,” she says, “until that cute little poodle walks by, then he’s gone.”
She smiles. “You have to believe in what you do. That’s what faith is about.”
Donna knows you can’t fake compassion or faith.
She looks around the room at these men and woman who have seen much better days. Her face turns serious and she offers another analogy.
“They are used to seeing people on the street, and what’s the first thing they do? They put their head down, divert their eyes and walk past them as fast as they can,” she says. “It’s like they don’t exist.”
Donna never diverts her eyes.
“We’ don’t ask why they’re here, and we don’t care. We treat them with respect.”
There’s no judging at the Extended Table. There’s good food and friendly faces, but judgment is never on the menu.
The Extended Table and the people who come are part of Donna’s life. It doesn’t end when she heads home at the end of the night.
Whether it’s respect, or faith or friendship or family, it’s a two-way street.
“This is such a huge part of my life. I am in their thoughts as much as they are in mine.”
She smiles, her emotions taking over a little.
“I like it when they know they are loved.”
Donna’s passion and commitment for this calling is unquestioned and has never wavered.
“The minute I walk in I knew this was where I was suppose to be. I will probably be serving food down her until God calls me somewhere else,” she says.
She dabs a tear and regroups her emotions as she thinks about some of the hard times over the years.
There’s no sugar-coating the harsh reality that is homelessness.
On Dec. 13, 2005, 50-year-old Helena Jandura died of hypothermia. Donna spoke at her funeral.
She remembers a family who walked in a few years back, filled with sadness. Their child had died recently, but they still needed a hot meal.
It can be overwhelming at times but she accepts that is simply part of her calling.
“Who do you call when there’s a tragedy? You call your family. This is their family,” Donna says. “We are here for them.”
There are great times too. And those memories bring tears as well. Tears of happiness are so much better than the others.
“They tell me when they get work, they tell me when they’re moving on, they tell me when good things happen.”
And they bring Miss Donna gifts.
“When a homeless person gives you a gift, you have no idea what that’s like,” she says, shaking her head.
These are the kind of gifts that it is indeed all about the thought. Miss Donna is in their thoughts.
They bring her candles, rocks, unique pieces of wood, and every gift is a treasured memento for Miss Donna.
And like any family, they share stories and photos. They laugh together and they cry together. And if they want, they pray together.
“We try to make it like home.”
A few hours every night, in the basement of the First United Methodist Church, there’s a small slice of home and family for these weary and cold people.
“I came here with the intention of blessing people, but it’s me who has been blessed.
“They knocked my socks off,” she says with a big smile.
The Extended Table is all about a huge serving of help, hope and family.
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