ORLEANS — Firefighters respond to fires, accidents, and medical emergencies. Next week, members of the local department hope that townspeople will join them in responding to the needs of those who are “Homeless for the Holidays.”
For the first time, Orleans will join the roster of Cape towns whose firefighters take turns sleeping outdoors in the cold to raise awareness about homelessness and collect food, toys, and other donations. Starting at 8 a.m. Dec. 6, they'll be outside the Lobster Claw Restaurant on Route 6A straight through 3 p.m. Dec. 10.
Orleans Firefighter Brandon Henderson, who's organizing the camp-out, said he was inspired by a good friend, Firefighter Craig Poirier of the Bourne department, who put together the first “Homeless for the Holidays” event on the Cape in 2002. It's since spread across the county; in Harwich, firefighters and police will camp out at Brooks Park for the third consecutive year.
“It's a great cause, and I wanted to get our department involved,” Henderson said. “I'd like to see the police department and our surrounding towns, like Eastham, all work together. It's tough with a really small department.”
Although the number of homeless in Orleans may be small compared to those in Hyannis, people with limited options are sleeping out in the town's wooded areas. Henderson said folks tend to stay near the two big chain supermarkets; in the winter months, a motel lets some people come in from the cold.
“We have a couple of homeless people in our town who have service dogs,” Henderson said. “There's one gentleman who kind of hops between Hyannis and Orleans.”
Pet supplies are among the donations the firefighters are seeking, along with non-perishable food, new and unwrapped toys, clothing, and monetary gifts. They're working with the Lower Cape Outreach Council and the Toys for Tots program to deliver the goods to those in need.
Henderson said the camp-out is “not just for the homeless. We're collecting toys and food for families that can't afford to get gifts for their children. We'll take whatever people can give.”
The firefighter praised Lobster Claw owner Don Berig for allowing the use of his parking lot, which will feature a couple of four-cot tents, a trailer to load the donations, and a “burn barrel” to gather around when the winds blow. There may be a Winnebago on site “to go in and warm up” on really cold nights, Henderson said.
Firefighter Brad Willis, who organizes the Harwich event, has told him what to expect. “He said there's not much sleeping involved,” Henderson said. “You kind of stay awake.” He plans to be there for as many of the 103 hours as possible, and says his two young children are “good with it.” His wife, who has a flair for graphic design, is “excited about it” and has helped create signs and put the event online.
Nauset Disposal is donating trash and recyclables service as well as providing a portable toilet. Members of the fire department are donating use of the trailer and the burn barrel. “A lot of guys in the department are using stuff from home to help out,” the firefighter said.
Henderson hopes the Orleans event will get bigger every year. He points to Harwich, which over the past two years has received 5,000 pounds of non-perishable food, $10,500 in cash and gift card donations, and 2,284 toys. “Homeless for the Holidays,” which is sponsored by Cape Cod Broadcasting, will have 10 locations across the Cape this year.
“I'm sure they'll be asking what we're doing and what we're taking,” Henderson said of the visitors he hopes to greet next week. “We'll be talking about the department and what we're doing. It's new to us. We're just raising awareness for the homeless and letting people know where their donations are going.”