Carmen Vega
Shelter Coordinator Carmen Vega

If gratitude can help calm fear, the frontline workers at the Lazarus House emergency Shelter are rewarded each day for the peril of leaving their homes. In the midst of the pandemic, they are anxiously trying to keep it open for the families and individuals for whom it is their only sanctuary.

“The Guests at the shelter don’t have people they can rely on. A lot of the people don’t have anyone else in the world. Their fear is, ‘If I lose Lazarus House, where will I go?’” said Almarie Silverman, Director of Advocacy, who especially worries about a woman who is nine months pregnant.

Another staff member working to keep it open is Carmen Vega, Shelter Coordinator, who comes in each day feeling her family’s worry she will bring COVID-19 home. She only recently was able to wear a mask.

“We didn’t have masks, so I felt it wasn’t fair if I was wearing a mask and my staff could not,” Vega said.

Vega said the shelter “smells like bleach,” as the staff and shelter Guests thoroughly follow the protocol – taking precautions of social distancing, wearing masks and regularly disinfecting common areas. They all know that does not completely eliminate the risk, but they all hope to stay at the only place they have left.

“It’s scary. I am a woman of faith, so I pray and ask God to cover me,” said Vega. “My family would wish that I wouldn’t come in, but this is my job. This is what I love to do.”

“Our staff really cares about what they do, they are feeling torn between the health concerns they have for themselves and their families, and the sense of calling and duty to care for the Guests in our charge,” said Jeff Hassel, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley non-profit.

Carmen Vega
Shelter Coordinator Carmen Vega opens a box of donated items ordered by a donor through Amazon.

Guests at the shelter are staying in their rooms when possible, coming down mostly for designated mealtimes to aid in physical distancing, knowing that just one case of COVID-19 could force the staff into quarantine and threaten operations.

“Families with fear about having nowhere to go are willing to do anything to keep us open, and have been sweeping, keeping it clean, keeping us open,” said Silverman.

The staff can no longer pray side-by-side with Guests or  develop the more personal relationships they are accustomed to – it’s difficult from six-feet away.

However, everyone at the shelter is motivated by the children who help answer the question of why they continue to face the danger and come in. “The kids are amazing, they’re grateful, they always say thank you for being here,” said Silverman.

“There is a lot of joy still in the work,” said Hassel. “I spent the day at the shelter and during lunch the kids were singing a children’s song. So, in the crisis, life goes on. Kids still sing, kids still play. Moms still take care of their kids.”