Women's Shelter Helpers Make Spirits Bright: House of Ruth Feast Feeds Homeless, Gives Volunteers Opportunity to Reflect

Article excerpt

The eight well-heeled women busy cooking in the basement of the House of Ruth yesterday had nothing in common with the dozens of homeless women waiting to be served by them upstairs at long tables covered by red and green paper tablecloth, paper plates and plastic forks.

They had nothing in common, except that they all spent Christmas Day at the House of Ruth homeless shelter for women in Northeast.

"This is payback for all the good things in life," said Nancy D'Jamoos, 63, an optician from Marshfield, Mass.

Mrs. D'Jamoos volunteered to help prepare Christmas dinner at the shelter with her family. She made the journey to the District with daughter Jennifer, 28, to visit another daughter Betsy, 38. The three, who had never worked in a shelter before, donned hair nets and set about making potato salad and slicing cakes and pies in preparation for the feast.

"It's amazing how five hours out of your life can make such a difference in other peoples lives," Jennifer D'Jamoos said as she wiped down a stainless steel counter.

Up on the first floor, the women who live in the shelter were getting ready for Christmas, too.

Some set the table with paper green napkins and white plastic knives and forks.

One sat at a table and carefully applied a coat of mascara and petunia pink lipstick.

Others sat waiting quietly for the food to arrive, thinking about their children, estranged family members and other loved ones while trying to cope with another holiday without them.

The circumstances surrounding each woman's destitution are as varied as the reasons each volunteer came to help them yesterday.

"My story is very interesting, but it's not an open book," said the woman in the pink lipstick, who was getting ready to meet with her boyfriend later.

Others did not mind sharing some of their stories, although they often omitted painful chapters about drug abuse, abusive relationships and children placed into foster care.

One mother of seven, aged 30, hasn't seen any of her children in six months. All are in a foster home while she tries to beat a crack cocaine addiction. She has been clean a month and was resisting the urge yesterday to meet her friends on a nearby street corner.

"They're out there drinking and drugging and I don't want to be a part of that," said the woman, who plans to start a four-month cooking class in January so she can eventually get a job and regain custody of her children. …