A few days before Christmas, Jeremy Anderson sat in the basement of Christ the King Church in University City with his girlfriend and one-year-old son as they ate a barbecue dinner.
It was not exactly where they'd hoped to be, but the food was warm and the conversation was good. They were grateful to have found Room at the Inn.
Anderson had been working in security at a hotel in Las Vegas last year. A mass shooting at a concert near the Mandalay Bay hotel left him stressed. His employer gave him time off work, but it was just too much.
"We were put on lockdown until about 3 a.m.," he recalled. Weeks after the incident, "it was giving me stress, seeing all of the (memorial) crosses. I thought, I could recover, but not here."
Anderson, along with his partner Chasidy Ellis and their son, Chance, returned to St. Louis. They had friends and family here, but no place to stay. They turned to Room at the Inn, an organization in St. Louis County that provides 24-hour emergency shelter. With some help, Jeremy and Chasidy are headed back to school this month, and Jeremy has found a job at Walmart. They're still looking for housing.
Sponsored by the Sisters of Divine Providence, the Room at the Inn operates from its central location in Bridgeton, where clients are based during the day, and 52 night sites at congregations throughout St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The organization marks its 25th anniversary this year.
Room at the Inn serves up to 20 people daily, nearly 180 people each year, half of whom are children. In addition to food and shelter, Room at the Inn helps clients identify the underlying causes of their homelessness, regain self-sufficiency and avoid future episodes of homelessness.
"We provide them with everything we can do to get them on their feet," said development director Troy Miles. The average stay is about 30-40 days. Many of their clients are working poor, where Miles noted that "one crisis can become a disaster. You go from living somewhere to couch surfing or living in a car. When you're trying to balance work, family and a social life, one crisis can destroy all of that."
Christ the King Parish in University City has served as a night site for more than a decade. Once a month, a group of volunteers, led by parishioner Tom Malon, arrange transportation to the church, where they provide an evening meal, companionship and a safe place to sleep. In the morning, breakfast is served and and clients are transported back to Room at the Inn.
This was the first time Gordon and KC Friedrich and their two daughters volunteered at the night site at Christ the King. KC Friedrich said they were looking for a volunteer opportunity in which they could include their daughters. Both girls, Lily, 6, and Anna, 8, quickly warmed up to the clients and their children, playing games and assembling Lego sets.
As they arrived, Lily Friedrich immediately bounced over to a young boy — "Want to go look at the beds?" she asked, as she started her own little tour of the church basement.
Liz and Benjamin Dressel and their three children also served as volunteers that evening. Liz Dressel has had several conversations with their children about helping others in need, and to help them understand what it means to treat others with dignity and compassion.
"You want your children to have compassion, and it seems like these days it's harder to do that now," Liz Dressel said. "It's not something you can just teach them — they have to experience it."