Volunteer Appreciation Month Highlight: Sherry Trafford
Volunteers are an important part of what makes Miriam’s Kitchen special. Please enjoy the following spotlight on volunteer and new board member, Sherry Trafford, as one example of our amazing volunteers, who is particularly interested in service and justice.
How did you first get involved with Miriam’s Kitchen?
I moved to DC in 1993 and saw flyers posted about Miriam’s Kitchen around George Washington University. I volunteered on and off over the years depending on work and childcare needs. And it was through Miriam’s that I became a member of Western Presbyterian Church.
One highlight was getting Volunteer of the Year in 2012. But really, my favorite memories at Miriam’s Kitchen have been volunteering with my daughter Ann Elise. As a baby, she slept in the stroller while I volunteered. As she got older, she helped greet guests and had an internship at Miriam’s Kitchen. Today she works as a case manager, so Miriam’s Kitchen has had a huge impact on both our lives.
How has Miriam’s Kitchen changed since you first volunteered 26 years ago?
The biggest change in Miriam’s Kitchen was the shift in focus from providing a meal to assisting and advocating to help people find housing. I was initially skeptical about this change in focus because providing housing back then often meant people needed to change who they were in order to access housing. I worried that Miriam’s Kitchen would lose a bit of what made it special—the unconditional love they provided when they served meals. The dining room welcomed guests to come as they are and there was no judgment. I feared that people may not come for a meal if they were not able to fulfill the requirements to move toward a more “stable” or “appropriate” way of life. But those fears were not realized. Miriam’s Kitchen remained true to keeping guests at the center of what they do, and that meant advocating for housing first—without preconditions or barriers to entry.
Across the years, I have seen Miriam’s Kitchen extend the warm community of dignity and belonging throughout its programs. In my prior position with Public Defender Service, I worked with people enduring chronic mental illness. I knew if one of my clients was engaged with Miriam’s Kitchen then they were going to get better services than if they were working with anyone else in the city. And Miriam’s Kitchen has achieved amazing progress for enabling guests to get access to the services they want.
Why did you decide to serve on the board of Miriam’s Kitchen?
Miriam’s Kitchen is such a well-run organization, with such high-quality staff and Board members, that I consider it quite an honor. I’ve served on other Boards, but never for an organization with such accolades for management. As one of Western Presbyterian’s two representatives on the Board, I seek to renew and strengthen the relationship between the church and Miriam’s Kitchen and help the church find ways to support and honor MK’s amazing work. I also hope Miriam’s Kitchen and its staff can see the church as a resource and source of strength. One example of this is how Western and Miriam’s recently launched “Celebration of Life” services, where we honor the lives of guests who have experienced homelessness and passed away. I was unable to attend the first one in February, but I heard that it was an emotional and beautiful service that was greatly appreciated by staff and family of guests. I hope to attend an upcoming service so that I can be a part of a community that shows every life matters and deserves to be well-remembered.
Miriam’s Kitchen’s mission is to end veteran and chronic homelessness in DC. Since 2013 veteran and chronic homelessness in DC have respectively decreased by 39% and 10%. What do you see as MK’s unique role in those efforts?
Personally, I was so thrilled to see Miriam’s Kitchen focus on veterans. We ask so much of service members, and many suffer from what was required of them. I believe we owe our veterans for their service—and that includes making sure they have a safe, permanent place to call home. I also think focusing on a smaller population like veterans is smart. The focus and resources that have brought us on the cusp of ending veteran homelessness in DC means we can do the same for everyone experiencing homelessness.
I credit Miriam’s Kitchen for providing the spark that ending veteran and chronic homelessness is achievable and for working across agencies and systems to make it happen.
While we have made great progress, I believe DC government can and should do more to end homelessness. I hope they will look to the examples of Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland—regions that have ended veteran homelessness in their communities. At the end of the day, our nation’s capital should be a shining example of what we aspire to be as a community.
You helped organize a discussion series at Western Presbyterian around the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.Why?
We need to uproot the myth that homelessness is inevitable. Homelessness is devastating to individuals, families and communities. Homelessness is expensive and costs lives. Homelessness is solvable. Homelessness is not inevitable. This country has enough resources for everyone to have a safe place to call home. We’ve just decided not to do that.
I believe the faith community has the power, influence and responsibility to advocate for policies that will provide care for other people around us. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. As part of our adult classes at Western, I helped organize discussions on the book Evicted and listened to the author speak at the National Building Museum. I hope it will lay the groundwork for people to become more involved in their communities and change it for the better—around the issues of housing and more.
We’re so grateful for individuals like Sherry as a part of our volunteer family. Learn more about how you can get involved as a volunteer with Miriam’s Kitchen here!