A look at the day-to-day of warming shelter volunteer Emily Reeves

Emily Reeves 3

At this point in time, you have likely heard about the warming shelter that popped up in response to a houseless man freezing to death two years ago. It’s also likely that you’ve heard about Reverend Randy Fikki, whose church, Unity Southeast’s name, is on the contract with the city to run the shelter. But have you heard of warming shelter volunteer Emily Reeves? 

The Pitch: What is your role with Unity Southeast’s warming shelter?

Emily Reeves: If Randy is CEO, I’m COO. Randy gets to deal with the city, I get to deal with the volunteers. We’re interchangeable in the day-to-day at the shelter. He can be there one day, and I’m there the next, and we don’t skip a beat. 

How does an average day look for you between December and February when the shelter is open?

An average day is getting to work around 9 a.m., then heading straight to the shelter and staying until 9:30 p.m. or so. For the first few weeks, we’re there a lot5 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. There will be a few nights when we sleep over because there’s no point in going home for a few hours. Morning shifts are brutal. You’re putting people outside into the cold, and you have to get there at about 5 a.m. to start waking people up and making sure the shelter is clean and ready to go for the day crew.

This time of year, a busy day is usually when it’s coldest out. That one week when we had our cold snap, we went from averaging 80 people a night to nearly doubling it. Many residents stay with us regularly, so they know the deal and our policies and procedures. When you get a lot of new residents, it takes significant time to get them caught up on the expectations once they get inside. The day starts at 5 p.m. when I get there to let in security and resident volunteers to set out our 90+ beds. I get stations set up for volunteers so that when they get there, they can jump in to set up bedding, make sandwiches, and get guests checked in and cleaned up.

Once I get volunteers assigned to duties, I get people checked in. This is one of my favorite parts—where I get to say hi to my friends. I know all their names, so even while I’m driving around town, I say, ‘Oh, there’s Larry,’ or, ‘That’s my friend Brian. Oh good, he still has the shoes we gave him.’ Those super cold nights are my favorite, though, because it really feels like a matter of life and death. There’s a lot of chaos going on around the shelter on those nights, but I stay focused on getting as many people checked in as quickly as possible. After that, it’s getting them fed, making them feel safe, and doing it again the next day.”

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Sounds like you have some long days.

On a really busy day, I’m putting in 12 to 15 hours a day. That said, I joke that I hardly work at all, but I’m constantly working because both my “real job” and the shelter truthfully don’t feel like work. My clients and prospects know they can email or text me at all hours, and I’ll respond. Throughout the day, I’m still tackling shelter items, ensuring we have enough volunteers and working on email blasts to get more people signed up, getting snacks and items for the shelter, and answering volunteer questions.

What is your regular job?

I was working in finance in Florida when a recruiter who couldn’t figure out how I had an ‘816’ phone number reached out. He told me about this fin-tech start-up in KC and thought it could be crazy but that I should check it out. My fluffy dog Theodore and I moved back in December of 2019 for the job, so right before COVID hit and before people could work remotely. I do asset-based lending here; the closest thing to compare it to is I’m a Shark from Shark Tank. We give businesses the capital they need to grow.

What made you think, ‘This is important enough that I’m going to work non-stop for three months each winter?” 

Back in 2019, I invested in GameStop. Like, early—$4 dollars a share early, along with a handful of calls (a stock thing). I made a lot of money really unexpectedly. I wasn’t really into the market or anything; the buy just made sense. At $4 a share, it was low risk, so I went all in. 

About the same time GME shot through the roof, KC was hitting a cold snap at the beginning of February. I went to Walmart and bought a few thousand dollars worth of blankets, pillows, and hand warmers. In retrospect, knowing what I know now and what people really need—half of the stuff wasn’t all that useful. The best things you can donate are belts, sturdy shoes, and mylar blankets.

I had a bunch of items left over, and I heard Bartle Hall was doing overnight warming, so I brought everything there to give out. I got to talking to the Downtown council and started volunteering. A couple of things happened, and I ended up taking four weeks off of work and volunteering full-time, 18 hours a day. Since then, I’ve just stuck around volunteering overnights during the winter. It’s an incredible feeling to give and serve.

What would you say to someone busy but who wants to help?

I think we’re all busy. Sometimes that busy is scrolling through our phones for a few hours or going out to dinner. We all have a few hours a month that we can give to something more meaningful. I’ve volunteered with people who have just moved to the state and are looking for like-minded people, are going through a divorce or break-up, or just want something different to do with their friends. Find a cause that’s close to you. There’s no shortage of organizations in KC. Pick up the phone and see what you can do to help.

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