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ESNKY Volunteer

Bill Watts - October 26, 2020

In September, I started volunteering one day a week at the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY), a homeless shelter in Covington. Cincinnati Cares organized a city-wide Day Of Service event on September 11 to connect volunteers with local organizations, and that was my first day at ESNKY. The description was appealing to me, and it seemed similar to other activities I have enjoyed in the past.

I love volunteering at ESNKY. Each day is unique and fun. I love hanging out with the people that the shelter provides services for, as well as the staff members and volunteers, who are all wonderful. I feel like I'm being productive and that I'm part of a good thing.

The people who need the services of a homeless shelter are regular people. Hanging out with them is like hanging out with anybody else. They are friendly, funny, good-natured, sometimes cranky, sometimes tired, sometimes hungry.

Volunteer Duties

Some of my volunteer duties include:

  1. Distributing clothes - Anyone can come to ESNKY and get a fresh set of clothes, even if they aren't staying at the shelter. People stand in a line outside the building (and everyone wears masks). One at a time, I ask them what clothes they need, including the size and style, and then I go inside and try to find a suitable match. I tend to assist more men than women, so that the women can avoid my terrible fashion sense.
  2. Managing the shower schedule - ESNKY has one shower stall for public use. People sign up for a 15-minute time slot. The shelter provides a towel, wash cloth, soap, shampoo, etc. I write down the names of people on the schedule, make sure they have everything they need, and try to keep the line moving. These shower facilities are as popular and as valuable as you might guess.
  3. Making PBJ sandwiches - ESNKY didn't understand the risk they were taking when they asked me to cook, and I didn't warn them. I made some bold decisions in the kitchen. There were five loaves of different types of bread, so each sandwich had two different breads. Peanut butter and jelly on the same slice, to minimize the seepage from the jelly. No cutting the sandwiches in half, because I was worried I would mess that up. Dr. Frankenstein would have been impressed.
  4. Sorting donations - People drop off trash bags filled with clothes, and I sort them based on gender, type, and size.
  5. Front desk support - I answer the phone, sort the mail, keep an eye on the front door. The mailing address and phone number for ESNKY is often the main contact information for a lot of people.
  6. Changing bed sheets - The shelter has 24 twin-sized beds. The sheets and blankets are changed each morning. The pillow is built into the mattress, so no pillow cases. The sheets are tucked in at the foot and sides of the bed. A few small rooms only have one bed, but most rooms are larger and have multiple beds. Rooms are very spartan - each person gets a bed and a chair. Some rooms have a sink. Everyone who sleeps at the shelter has to leave in the morning and spend the day elsewhere, so the shelter is very empty and quiet during the day.
  7. Laundry
    • Washer - The machine should be completely full, for balance. Each load should be fairly uniform - sheets w sheets, blankets w blankets, towels w towels. No socks, too hard to match. Load the machine, close the door, push and turn the red knob, set the temperature to Hot, press the Start button. After a few seconds, press the button on the wall to dispense the detergent.
    • Dryer - Open the bottom door, knock the lint out of the trap onto the floor. Load the machine, two dryer sheets, close the door, set the temperature to Medium, timer to 35 minutes, press the green Start button.


ESNKY is a low-barrier shelter, meaning they serve people that other shelters would turn away, often because of drug addiction or medical circumstances. I really like this inclusive mindset, but this means that ESNKY is excluded from many funding sources and relies heavily on private donations.

*** PLEASE *** make a monetary donation to ESNKY. If you have any men's jeans with a waist size under 40, or comfortable walking shoes, or jackets/coats, please donate them too.