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Caritas 

Six Months of Shelter

Amid holiday busywork it's easy to mistake excitement for spirit. That's why traditions rooted in the spirit of giving are extra special. Just ask Robin Wright and her husband, William.

Five years ago, the Wrights began volunteering their time at Thanksgiving to Caritas (Congregations Around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter), a community-based group comprising more than 110 churches and synagogues that provides shelter to more than 1,200 homeless people from the end of October to the beginning of April.

The Wrights, members of Caritas participant Winfree Memorial Baptist in Midlothian, have discovered what 5,000 to 10,000 annual volunteers find so rewarding: "It really humbles me and other volunteers to keep things in perspective and be grateful for what you have. I get as much out of it as I give," acknowledges Wright. And for the Wrights, Caritas has become a holiday tradition as natural as turkey and cranberry sauce.

"You'll hear some people say they wish they could be with their families, but most are living in the present and glad to have a warm place to stay," says Wright.

She says her father now joins them on Thanksgiving to lend a hand with the host church's activities.

"That day is different. They come Wednesday night and don't leave until Friday morning," says Wright. On an ordinary night, those receiving shelter sign in at a participating church in the city and then are transported to the host church — which can be anywhere in the Greater Richmond area and, in this case, is Winfree Memorial Baptist — for the night. "It's really laid-back; they sleep, watch football, shoot baskets, it's just really nice because we don't have to rush a lot." And while the Wrights have a new Caritas tradition at Thanksgiving — their church opens its doors this week when many people are out of town — the program seeks volunteers throughout the winter and early spring. Like other traditions, Wright says she looks forward each year to being part of Caritas. "Sometimes we'll hear success stories, and that's always really nice to know that they're making it
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