What is the Interfaith Winter Shelter?

The Interfaith Winter Shelter (IWS) began in the late spring of 2009 when clergy and lay leaders from many faith communities came together to consider ways to respond to concerns for the health, safety, and well-being of men and women who are homeless in the Bloomington area.  The project quickly snowballed and today involves more than twenty faith communities, more than 450 volunteers, and a number of public, private, and governmental entities working together to provide emergency winter shelter to Monroe County’s homeless individuals.

IWS models its program after PADS, a similar program in Chicago that has been in operation for over twenty years.  In this multi-site model, several different faith communities host the shelter for one or two nights per week on a rotating basis, using volunteers, financial resources, and in-kind donations from each hosting site and the community at large.

The IWS operates as a low-barrier shelter during the winter months.  It was designed to offer a safe, warm place to sleep for men and women who – for whatever reason – have no other alternative but the streets.

How are we involved?

First United Church was one of the founding organizations of the Interfaith Winter Shelter, and we continue our active involvement today. Since 2010, we have opened our building two or three nights a week to guests experiencing homelessness. In 2016-2017, we are hosting guests on Monday nights. Other congregations will host the shelter at First United on Tuesdays.

How can I help?

The IWS needs volunteers from November through March, and a training session is required. We need about thirty volunteers each evening we’re open. There are shifts and tasks that allow for limited contact with our guests, and there are shifts and tasks that require considerable contact with the guests. Please watch the church announcements and the IWS website http://interfaithwintershelter.org/ for information about upcoming training events.

Information for 2016-2017 Volunteers

New and returning volunteers should attend a training session. These short sessions will prepare shelter volunteers to work three-hour shifts between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. from November through March, the shelter’s schedule this year.

Volunteer training is scheduled for:

Tuesday, November 29 at 7:30 pm at First Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, December 13 at 7:30 pm at First Presbyterian Church


Additional Training Sessions will be scheduled in the near future.  Please check the Shelter website: https://interfaithwintershelter.org/

If there are any questions, please call Dan Watts, (732-939-9426)

If you represent a group of more than four or five, we can try to schedule a training session at your location at a time convenient to you.  Please call to discuss the possibilities.

All IWS training sessions are open to everyone, any one of them will qualify you to volunteer any night, and only trained adult volunteers can sign up to help when our homeless guests are present. For more information, buttonhole me and ask me anything. Sara Frommer, IWS volunteer coordinator, First United Church. firstucshelter@gmail.com

If you can’t make a time, ask our volunteer coordinator, Sara Frommer firstucshelter@gmail.com, or the Shelter Board President, Dan Watts wattbush@gmail.com, about working out individualized training.

Once trained, volunteers can sign the 2016-17 volunteer covenant, and get started signing up for shifts at any of the church sites. Sign up is done via VolunteerSpot, an online signup service. Volunteers must be 18 to work when homeless shelter guests are present, but the setup shift can bring children and young teens, who don’t sign up, even though they can make a real contribution. If you will turn 18 during the shelter season, it’s fine to take the training now. If you have questions about volunteering, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Sara Frommer firstucshelter@gmail.com.

Another way to volunteer is to help serve substantial soup to feed our guests. This year the food servers will sign up on VolunteerSpot with other trained volunteers. If you are interested in donating desserts such as homebaked cookie or brownies, please contact our food coordinator, Hopi Stosberg hopi@stosberg.com, who schedules those donations.

Volunteers, to read the 2016-17 volunteer manual and reference guide, please click here. Printed copies of the new guide will be available at the shelter sites.