Homeless women

Sisters helping the homeless together

“Needs don’t just go away because the virus is out there — they multiply.” For determined volunteers Janet and Judy Fireman, a global pandemic meant the sisters had to get creative in how they helped homeless women. They found a way to cook dinner for 40 women every week — and continued to give.

In their fourth week of social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, sisters Janet and Judy Fireman chopped 25 pounds of potatoes in the kitchen of Sister Jose Women’s Center, a Tucson shelter for women experiencing homelessness

Just as they’ve done for years, the sisters were cooking healthy dinners for the center’s 36 overnight residents — but sequestered in the kitchen now instead of serving the dinners themselves.

“We didn’t hesitate for a second when pandemic status was announced,” said Judy, 77. “I turned to Janet and said, ‘Do you have any reservations about volunteering?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely not … Let’s go.’”

Judy and Janet Fireman at Sister Jose Women’s Center in Tucson.

“We cook for these women the way we cook for our family,” Judy said.

Since the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, many nonprofits have found themselves with fewer volunteers as at-risk individuals make the tough choice to stay home. And with many nonprofits shuttered or understaffed, women experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable than ever. The Fireman sisters are using both their Giving Accounts and their time to amplify their impact at Sister Jose Women’s Center.

Even for seasoned volunteers like Janet and Judy, hearing about the pandemic’s effects on the women at the center is wrenching.

“Last week, we overheard a conversation between two women planning to return to the street. One was explaining how to sleep in a tree to keep yourself safe,” Judy said. “She was giving very specific instructions on how to avoid falling out and how to hang your belongings among the branches to avoid theft.

“I was reminded of the continuous presence of violence in these women’s lives,” she said. “I’ve never imagined such a conversation in my life. Nor do I, as a volunteer, have anything to contribute to it except appreciation of these women’s flexibility and ingenuity and bravery.”

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