SCRANTON, Pa. — When the temperature dips below freezing, many turn their attention to helping the homeless.
But an often-overlooked issue is kids who don't have a safe or stable home.
NEPA Youth Shelter in Scranton is helping out.
Not every teenager would get excited by a wall of shampoo and hand soap or a shelf stocked with canned food, but for kids who may not have a home to go to after school, it's a welcome sight.
"We've had kids who got kicked out by their families because they no longer get food stamps, and it's hard to feed an extra mouth," said Maureen Maher-Gray, the executive director at NEPA Youth Shelter.
Maher-Gray runs the shelter with her assistant Donald Yarros. They say the need has only grown over the course of the pandemic.
"I think there's been a lot more stress on families," said Maher-Gray.
"I think the overall numbers that show up here every day speaks volumes," added Donald Yarros.
The shelter closed for a few weeks during and after the holidays as COVID-19 cases were on the rise.
"I just didn't want our kids to be exposed because I know a significant portion of them do not have a vaccination," said Maher-Gray.
The shelter reopened last week with new COVID protocols in place. Only 30 people are allowed inside at a time. So, if you check-in and then leave, you're not guaranteed a spot when you come back.
"Under normal circumstances, we could have easily 60 to 70 people in here," explained Maher-Gray.
"We get phone calls every day asking if we're open. When we opened up on Tuesday or Wednesday, we had a mad influx of kids, probably like 22 in 30 minutes," added Yarros. "They were so thankful, came up, wanted to hug us, tell us how their Christmas was, their New Year's."
The shelter doesn't just provide the teens with a safe place to get the basic necessities. The volunteers also help the kids with finding a job or even a place to live.
Most importantly, they provide a support system.
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