WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., U.S.A. Everything is worn. The chairs. The tables. The people.
A volunteer’s first task is to sign-in, on a form that says May 15, 1996 on the bottom.
“This place hasn’t changed since I was ten. That’s 25 years ago.” said Sam, a volunteer dinner shift leader. “But there are more than enough positives that I have been coming back for 25 years.”
Since 1981, Samaritan Inn in Winston-Salem has served the hungry and the homeless. The Christian Ministry acts a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, and recovery program for former substance abusers. The inn has 69 beds for the men, and nearly all will be filled by 11 p.m.
“They are just guys looking for a hot meal.” said Sam.
Before that hot meals are served, two prayers are already said.
“It isn’t to proselytize, it’s to create community.” said Steve Stover, a senior staff counselor, adorned in a gray army shirt.
Holding hands, in a circle, the Our Father is recited.
The men soon wander in. Some with smiles. Others with grunts. They come in dressed in layers of sweatpants and sweatshirts to a middle-aged men wearing Ralph Lauren button-down shirts and sweater-vests.
All are in search of that hot meal though.
When they eat, their conversations range from Facebook arguments to old music to sports.
The differences fade away once the conversation starts.
“If you just start a conversation, it turns into something like I was just talking to one of my friends.” said Brady Buchanan, a freshman at Wake Forest.
“You just have to listen.” said Jack Langston, a freshman at Wake Forest.
At 10 pm, a voice booms over the speakers, announcing devotion is starting.
Stover, leads devotion. With each bible passage, the men’s rejuvenated eyes follow every move.
“All people are imperfect yet they want other people to be perfect” says Stover. “God forgives you. He has empowered us to live without sin. But ultimately you have the choice.”
The men in the room nod their heads.
Following his talk, Stover opens the floor to the men to pose questions and provide anecdotes.
“I just want to thank God for continuing to build bridges after I continue to burn them” said John, who has returned to the inn for two years.
Not all of the men are regulars though. There’s Jonathan, in his early twenties, spending his first night at the inn.
It’s 4:11 am, and John is sitting in the common room. By himself in a spot where the darkness meets the little light that exists. He’s quiet, speaking so softly one is hardly sure the words came out.
“You go to Wake Forest?” said John, noticing my black and gold Wake Forest jacket.
“Yes, I do” I said. His eyes light up in the dimness of the hallway when he heard of something familiar.
“That’s cool. I went to Winston-Salem State for two years.” said John.
John is awake but most other men will sleep for another hour and a half. Except those who have to leave for work hours before the sun thinks about rising.
The earliest wake up call is 4 am. We continue to disturb men from their sleep for work until Stover’s voice awakens the inn at 5:45, the mandatory wakeup time.
Soon after their breakfast, some will go back to wandering the streets.
But many already have and many will head to work anyway they can. For some thats walking miles in thirty degrees, for others thats riding bicycles or mopeds.
“How are you today?” I ask a man in a blue sweater, gray sweatpants and a yellow hat as he leaves the inn.
“I woke up, the rest is on me” said the man.
— Michael McLaughlin