By Chris T. Wilson
For nearly two decades, families and individuals in need have been offered a warm bed and hot meal when the winter season arrives in the Ojai Valley.
Starting this Thursday, the hundreds of volunteers who comprise Ojai Valley Family Shelter, will each do their part to make life as comfortable as possible for local people struggling to survive.
At the heart of the organization is shelter administrator Rick Raine, a local graphic designer for Behavioral Science Technology and member of the Ojai Valley Community Church. Raine started volunteering with OVFS 15 years ago.
“I got involved by volunteering with my church as an overnight host,” Raine recalls. “The next year I became site coordinator and then the board approached me and asked me if I was interested in running the whole program. It wasn’t exactly the thing I thought I’d be doing with my life, but it has been incredibly rewarding.”
Working closely with several local churches, the Ojai Valley Grange on Cruzero Street and Help of Ojai’s Community Assistance Program, OVFS serves between 20 and 30 individuals nightly from Dec. 1 though March 31 each season.
According to Raine, each site for the rotating shelter operates as its own outreach ministry. As the administrator Raine works closely with each site to make sure it is well staffed and supplied with food and bedding. The sites for the shelter are Sunday at the Ojai Wesleyan Church, Monday at Ojai Valley Grange Hall, Tuesday at St. Thomas Aquinas, Wednesday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Thursday at Ojai Presbyterian, Friday at Ojai Valley Community Church and Saturday at First Baptist Church of Ojai. About 400 to 500 volunteers take part in the program during its four-month season, Raine says.
For the past several years, Raine says, the program has instituted a locals-only policy. Many of the individuals or families who stay in the shelters are referred through the Help of Ojai Community Assistance Program run by Jessica Murray.
The C.A.P. provides free tuberculosis screenings for shelter participants, provides lunches during the shelter off-season and laundry services for area homeless.
Murray said C.A.P. has also offered a rainy day shelter in November and April to bookend the few days in late autumn and early spring when rain or cold make life particular challenging for area homeless. A week of rainy weather in November and a few late frosts in April made the program viable for those who need it, but more volunteers are needed to see it continue, Murray says.
“This year we have served 140 people in the first three months,” Murray says. “That averages to 47 individuals per month which is up from 40 per month last year.”
The C.A.P. provides lunch, a phone, laundry services once per week and a place to get mail, Murray says.
Raine says OVFS has a good supply of volunteers, but can always use money donations and blankets. Work to repair and maintain a mobile shower unit is costly Raine says.
To volunteer or donate to the Family Shelter, visit ovfs.org or call Raine at 804-7094. To volunteer or donate to the C..A.P., contact Murray by phone at 640-3320.