When volunteers from the Rotary Club of Santa Fe Foundation visited the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place in November, they found a group of people huddled together in the rain, trying to keep warm before the shelter opened for an evening meal.
“It was a cold, dark and rainy night,” said Fred Schott, a Rotary Club board member and past president. “When we looked outside, we noticed, ‘Hey, there’s nothing really out here. There’s benches and a patio, but no covering.’ ”
He and other Rotary Club members began brainstorming a solution.
After speaking with organizers of Pete’s Place, their idea for a simple awning evolved into a plan for a full steel structure with drop-down shades and interior heaters, Schott said. And within a month, the foundation donated $21,000 to the shelter to fund the project.
The awning, expected to be completed by mid-February, is one of several recent renovations at the homeless shelter on Cerrillos Road. From a larger luggage room to a more spacious kitchen with brand-new sinks, shelves and countertops, the improvements will allow volunteers to better serve guests and give guests a safer and more comfortable place of refuge, organizers said.
“It’s all connected,” said the shelter’s executive director, Joe Jordan-Berenis. “It better serves the guests, and it better acknowledges our 2,000 [active] volunteers.”
Jordan-Berenis said one of his top priorities for renovations was a redesign of the shelter’s commercial kitchen, which did not provide nearly enough space for volunteers to make food, store ingredients and clean dishes.
“We’ve got more room to cook, and, more importantly, we have more food-prep room,” said Len Rand, a volunteer and shelter board member who helped design the kitchen renovations. “We put out a good product before, but now we can turn out more [food], and [the process] is a lot easier on everybody.”
This is critical, given demand for the shelter’s services has nearly doubled since it opened its doors, Jordan-Berenis said. When the facility opened in 2012, volunteers and staff were serving about 50 to 70 people a night, he said. Today, that number is between 90 and 105.
Most guests eat two or three servings at each meal, he said, so the shelter’s claim to have served 65,000 last year is “really more like 130,000 to 190,000 meals.”
The kitchen work, completed in late October, was made possible by several donations, including a $75,000 matching grant from the Eugene V. and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust and $25,000 from both the Thornburg Foundation and the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation. The contributions also helped fund the installation of a new sign outside the shelter that says, “65,000 Meals Served Thanks to 2,000 Volunteers”; an expansion of the luggage area; improved lighting in the parking lot; and a soon-to-come family room for guests with children.
Jordan-Berenis said the shelter previously had a family room but had to convert it into office space. Now he plans to renovate a case manager’s office to a guest room with a private living area and two double bunk beds to accommodate families.
“Being in a shelter, for young people, is really difficult, and that’s my primary concern,” Jordan-Berenis said, noting a father who recently stayed at the shelter with his children slept in the men’s dorm with his sons but had to send his 12-year-old daughter to the women’s room. Having a more private space for families, he said, “makes their lives a bit easier during a difficult time.”
The awning is the last major part of the renovations.
“It’s going to make a huge difference,” Jordan-Berenis said, reminding guests that they are cared for.
“I think the clients certainly see the improvement and are glad for it,” Schott added. “It’s a good thing these investments are being made. It’s a real affirmation for them.”