The Warmth of Hospitality: Malden pastor helps locals in need during the winter season

Pastor Gerry Whetstone started the Malden Warming Center in 2019. (Photo by Gandharvika Gopal)

By Gandharvika Gopal

Gerald Whetstone, a pastor of over 50 years and a father, husband, and grandfather, says the Malden Warming Center was a direct result of his faith. “To use a Biblical phrase, the love of Christ compels me,” he said. “I don’t really have a choice, it’s just a part of the fabric of who I am.” 

The Malden Warming Center, now nearing the end of its sixth annual season, provides the opportunity for safe and warm shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness in the Malden area. “The warming center practices hospitality,” Pastor Whetstone said. “We, essentially, are a group of people with compassionate hearts [who] recognize that there are those that are experiencing homelessness right now, for a variety of reasons.”

Between December 1 and March 31, the Church of the Nazarene opens its doors to become a night center for up to 25 unhoused individuals. The center is fully self-funded through donations and grants and is operated solely by volunteers, with a few stipend positions. Guests receive individual “cubicles” to rest in, along with locker spaces for their belongings. The center provides snacks throughout the night, breakfast in the morning, and packaged lunches for guests to take with them the following day. 

Volunteers prepare a meal for guests in the center’s kitchen. (Photo courtesy of the Malden Warming Center)

“Hospitality is often thought of as entertaining your friends,” Whetstone said. “But if you look more to the ancient or the biblical model of hospitality, hospitality actually is caring for the sojourner, for the stranger. And that’s the kind of model that we take in.” 

With hospitality as its priority, the Malden Warming Center adopts a “low barrier” policy for guests. IDs are not required for entrance, and center staff perform minimal searches of guests’ belongings. Each guest signs an agreement on entry, pledging to uphold the standards of the center. Whetstone said there is a mutual agreement between staff and their guests to maintain the safe and welcoming space the center provides. 

Once guests sign the agreement, they can stay as often as they want, depending on the center’s capacity. “Of those 25 on a nightly basis, probably 80% of them are returns,” the pastor said. “And when they don’t show up for a while, you wonder.” 

The center recognizes Malden “Stop the Stigma” Day with blue ribbon pins for volunteers and guests. (Photo courtesy of the Malden Warming Center)

The warming center isn’t the first effort Pastor Whetstone has been involved in. He worked with housing projects like Community of Hope and Jubilee Housing in Washington, D.C. in the ‘70s. “People are in need, and I’ve been very graced. And so it is just a natural outflow of being a follower of Jesus Christ,” Whetstone said. 

While Whetstone’s motivations for his work are deeply rooted in faith, the center itself is non denominational. The center welcomes volunteers of any faith and is primarily concerned with providing care to those who need it. Whetstone believes this priority is key to addressing homelessness on a broader scale. “We tend to politicize caring for people, and in the process, we end up handcuffing people that want to help,” he said. 

“There’s got to be a way that we do better working together, and we stop being so afraid of faith-based groups and other groups that are ready to say, ‘We’re willing to do something, just give us a little hand.’”

 

Pastor Whetstone stands in the center’s check-in and locker area. As the founder and executive director, Whetstone manages operations at the center and volunteers multiple nights each week. (Photo by Gandharvika Gopal)

Malden’s warming center was the result of a conversation between community members and Mayor Gary Christenson. Pastor Whetstone helped start an interfaith group that facilitates communication between different faith groups in the city and meets regularly with the mayor. “[During] one of those conversations,” Whetstone said, “we just posed the question to him: what could faith communities do to help the city be a better city?” 

Working to address homelessness in Malden was the answer to that question. 

Pastor Whetstone soon found there were no shelters and very few resources for people experiencing homelessness in the area. He approached his church board with a proposal and the idea to host a warming center was quickly approved. 

Amy’s Closet, named in remembrance of a former volunteer, holds clothing, toiletries, and other essentials for guests. The closet is fully stocked by local donations. (Photo courtesy of the Malden Warming Center)

The Malden Warming Center isn’t only a resource for its guests. Whetstone believes it is a benefit to its volunteers and contributors. “It’s actually kind of expanded itself to become that which has really granted a lot of people in the city a place where they can show their compassion and involve themselves,” the pastor said. 

“It fosters a sense of a city of compassion, a city that does care. I think that just helps the city all around.”

The Malden Warming Center is located at 529 Eastern Ave. If you are interested in volunteering, donating, or supporting through sponsorship, please visit the website. Updates on the center’s work and notices for specific donation requests are posted to Facebook and Instagram.

About Gandharvika Gopal 1 Article
Gandharvika (Dharvi) Gopal is a junior journalism student at Emerson College and a freelance journalist and writer in the Boston area. She is currently interning with Urban Media Arts as a contributing journalist for Neighborhood View.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. Malden Warming Center is a safe, warm, place for guests and volunteers. People learn about each other and our faith in human kindness is restored.

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