WALLINGFORD – There were almost no cars on the road and snow was gently falling when Joan and Mike Smutko parked their car at the Wallingford Emergency Shelter just after 8 a.m. on Christmas Day.
The trunk was full of colorful gift bags containing hats, scarves and hand warmers.
”We thought they could use them,” Joan Smutko said.
Inside the Quinnipiac Street shelter, over a dozen people sat around a long table enjoying a warm, home-cooked breakfast. The Smutkos entered, gifts in hand, and began to give them out. For those staying at the shelter, it was an extra dose of holiday cheer.
“It catches me off guard because I never expected to be in the type of predicament I’m in and it makes me very grateful that there are people out in the community that don’t look down on the homeless,” said shelter resident Anthony Mathre.
The Wallingford shelter, run by Columbus House Inc., allows people to stay for up to 90 days and is meant as a transitional facility. Columbus House works with residents to help them find jobs. Some also need mental health treatment, including addiction services.
In the kitchen, volunteer Donna Goettler was busy making pancakes while her husband Jim, toasted bagels as residents complimented his festive red suit.
“We’re very blessed in our lives so it’s a way to give back, pay it forward,” Jim Goettler said.
For William Claussen, who was unable to work after a serious motorcycle crash, the act of kindness was overwhelming.
“I can’t even put in it words… it makes you want to cry,” Claussen said. “These people give their hearts to us.”
Residential Supervisor Alexis Dingle said seeing the volunteers put in the extra effort on Christmas was “heartwarming.”
“It feels good for them to know someone cares about them,” Dingle said. “Some come in hard times. Some are here just for a season to get themselves back on track and some are chronically homeless. We make them feel at home.”
Columbus House CEO Alison Cunningham expressed gratitude for the volunteers who showed up to make Christmas Day special for the residents staying at the Wallingford shelter, adding the holidays can be a difficult time for those suffering from homelessness.
”At this time of year, we are especially mindful of those who have no place to call home, who need not only a roof over their heads but the companionship of wonderful volunteers and the support of staff to help them through the holidays,” Cunningham said.