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Volunteering at Winter Inn Warms Heart of SLU Med Student

A warm encounter on a cold night led a Saint Louis University School of Medicine student to reflect on the meaning of service and why she chose SLU.

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Macy Walz is a second year student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Photo by Maggie Rotermund

Macy Walz, a second-year medical student, volunteered in early January at Winter Inn, a temporary shelter for homeless men held in the basement of St. Francis Xavier College Church.

The shelter operates on Wednesday and Thursday nights when the temperature drops below 20 degrees. The guests are given a meal, an opportunity to clean up, a warm bed and breakfast in the morning. Volunteers eat with the men and play board games after dinner.

For volunteers like Walz, Winter Inn provides a chance to engage with a population often ignored.

In a reflection to a professor, Walz wrote:

These men are some of the most positive people I've met. Their gratitude for our hospitality, the food, the warmth was unreal. They were all so kind and respectful, and fun to be around. Many of them seemed to have faith that runs deeper than anything I've ever known. The life inside of them and around me was amazing. Being around these people and the energy they brought to the room seemed to bring something out inside of me that I didn't know was there. It was like I was a stranger -  I wasn't a student and I didn't carry with me all of my useless knowledge or stresses that I live and breathe every day. Instead, I was a person, just like they are.

Walz said that SLU’s culture of service to others is one of the things that attracted her to university.

“I could tell when I came here for my interview and spoke with Dr. Everard (Kelly Everard, Ph.D., associate professor of family and community medicine) that service to others wasn’t just a talking point, it was a big part of the way of life here,” she said.

Walz heard about Winter Inn shortly after her first year started and she signed up to participate right away, but mild temperatures limited the number of nights the inn was open last year. She went once during the 2016-17 winter.

She said she was anxious before her first visit on Jan. 3, worried about what a girl from rural Iowa would have to talk about with men from St. Louis who had been living on the street.

“I wasn’t going to try to talk about the weather,” she said. “I also recognize that I am coming to this experience from a place of privilege. I am a white woman who is getting a medical education.”

Winter Inn rejuvenated me and made me more eager to go back to my studies and my life as a medical student. As I've reflected upon my encounters, I realized this is one of the reasons I chose SLU."

Macy Walz, second-year medical student 

Her fears were unfounded, Walz found.

“We talked like we had been friends for years,” she said. “The conversation just flowed.”

Walz said her experience with Winter Inn gave her a renewed sense of purpose for her own life.

“As a second-year student, my life is consumed by classes and studying,” she explained. “We aren’t in the patient-care phase of my education yet and it can sometimes be hard to see how all the studying will pay off when I get to interact with patients.

“Winter Inn rejuvenated me and made me more eager to go back to my studies and my life as a medical student. As I've reflected upon my encounters, I realized this is one of the reasons I chose SLU. I wanted to experience something outside of anything I had seen before and I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and the reality of what a large city is like. Never did I think it would be such a positive experience. And while living a life that seems to alternate between studying, eating and working out, it was nice to find some meaning to my existence.”

Winter Inn is part of the St. Louis Winter Outreach program, a collection of churches and faith-based organizations which provides emergency shelter to supplement government services. The program operates Dec. 1 through Feb. 28 each year on nights when the temperature drops to dangerously cold levels.

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Cots are set up in the basement of St. Francis Xavier College Church for Winter Inn. Photo by Maggie Rotermund

Volunteers provide crockpots of soup and sandwiches for dinner, while others work to serve the men while they are in the church. Still other volunteers help with set up and clean up.

Each man receives a new pair of underwear and socks. Winter Inn is always looking for donations of new socks and underwear, as well as travel sized toiletry items and gloves. For more information or to donate to Winter Inn, please email sfxjvolt@slu.edu or christine@sfxstl.org.


 SLU Service is an occasional series dedicated to sharing stories of service as SLU celebrates its 200th anniversary. To suggest a SLU service story, contact Maggie Rotermund or call 314-977-8018.