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Volunteers clean, paint city homeless shelter as part of Monday's day of service

Allison Hoffman paints a resident's room at Project PLASE homeless shelter as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Monday.
Allison Hoffman paints a resident's room at Project PLASE homeless shelter as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Monday. (Jessica Anderson / Baltimore Sun)

While Martin Luther King Jr. Day provided a day off from her job at Roland Park Country School, Allison Hoffman used Monday to get some painting done.

Hoffman and a half-dozen other volunteers gathered at the Project PLASE homeless shelter off Maryland Avenue to clean and paint several shelter rooms.

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More than 200,000 people were expected to volunteer on projects across all 50 states as part of the annual national day of service.

Congress and President Ronald Reagan designated the third Monday in January to celebrate King's birthday as a federal holiday in 1983, and President Bill Clinton backed the legislation that made it a day of service in 1994. Since then, many have considered it an opportunity to spend the day helping communities and individuals in need.

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"It's nice to get to know people in your community and help them with whatever needs they have," Hoffman said as she stood on a wooden ladder rolling a shiny layer of white paint at the PLASE shelter.

The painting project was one of several events organized by a coalition of five Charles Village churches known as the "Churches of Charles," which offer opportunities to volunteer and to learn about other local programs to continue service.

Monday's projects included cleaning and organizing classrooms at Abbottston Elementary School, making bags of toiletries at First English Lutheran Church to hand out to the homeless and serving tea to residents at Stadium Place, an affordable housing complex.

Jennifer DiFrancesco, a pastor at Second Presbyterian Church on St. Paul Street, said the scheduled day off is a great opportunity to get involved in volunteering. The holiday makes it easier for friends or families to do service projects together, she said. Many of the events included a role for children to volunteer.

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"That way they can reflect later together as a family," she said.

DiFrancesco's daughter Elisabeth, 12, joined her mother to help paint at Project PLASE, where she helped wipe down walls to prime them for a fresh coat.

"It feels pretty good" to help those without a home, Elisabeth said. "It feels nice to know that they have a place to go, that they have somewhere to stay."

Project PLASE — the acronym stands for People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment — has been providing shelter as well as services to help residents connect with jobs and long-term housing for 40 years. The organization serves about 450 individuals in its transitional and permanent housing program at the Maryland Avenue location and its main office on Frederick Avenue.

Tammy Montague, an advocacy counselor at PLASE, said the nonprofit receives referrals from the Veterans Administration, departments of social services and other agencies and works to help find permanent housing for residents.

"We really believe that there is an answer to homelessness and it is housing," she said.

She said there were 20 residents at the shelter Monday, but the building can house up to 34 in dorm-style rooms. Most stay between three and six months. Montague said all residents are adults with a variety of backgrounds. Some are veterans in need of help, have HIV or have mental health or drug issues.

She said the shelter has served residents as young at 19 and as old as 81.

As the DiFrancescos and others worked, one man walking to his room joked that he would clear out so they could paint it next.

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