The Harbor Homes winter shelter at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown opened its doors for the first time Sunday night and two guests enjoyed a hot meal while escaping from the cold.

“It’s going well,” said coordinator Lisa Belcastro. “It’s a slow start as everyone gets used to our schedule. I think in a couple weeks we’ll probably be full, word is spreading.”

In previous years, numerous Island churches provided shelter during the colder months for individuals in need through the Houses of Grace network. However, because of the pandemic, Houses of Grace was unable to provide services this year.

Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, a new nonprofit organization on the Island, stepped in to fill the void.

Karen Tewhey, executive director of Harbor Homes, said for the last five years there have been about 25 individuals who often used the Houses of Grace shelters. Ms. Tewhey said they are anticipating about the same number of individuals this year, although the Old Whaling Church has a maximum capacity of 13 individuals.

If the shelter reaches capacity, Ms. Tewhey said she can find additional beds in hotels using vouchers given to Harbor Homes by various Island hotels.

“We’ll work with them to see if they’re eligible for a hotel room,” Ms. Tewhey said. “In some cases they may be and in some cases they may not be.”

The shelter will be open through the end of March. All guests staying the night have to be checked in by 6 p.m. and must exit the building by 9 a.m.

In addition to a bed every night of the week, the shelter offers three free meals a day and extended operating hours for individuals in need. Dinner is served at 6 p.m., breakfast each morning at 8 a.m. and lunch from noon to 2 p.m. All the meals served at the shelter will be provided by Island restaurants, private chefs and the parish houses of Island churches.

Ms. Belcastro said the shelter’s meal providers are working within the shelter’s budget of $20 per day to provide their guests with three “super healthy, hot, nutritious meals” every day.

“We really have just been blessed, over and over again, by what the community is doing for us,” Ms. Belcastro said “I just can’t say enough.”

The shelter is taking extra care to practice social distancing within the building and conduct frequent cleanings, Ms. Belcastro added. Last Wednesday the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency delivered a load of personal protective equipment to the shelter, including isolation gowns, KN95 masks, surgical masks, hand sanitizer stations, surface cleaning towelettes and thermometers.

“Everything is taped off and labeled,” Ms. Belcastro said. “Guests are assigned a bed space number with their bed, bed bin and a corresponding seat at the table. That’s their space and we’re really trying to maintain that.”

In past years, Houses of Grace relied on volunteers to staff the shelter but this year, thanks to donations from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the County of Dukes County, family foundations and private donors, the shelter is staffed by 16 paid employees. The organization is still looking to hire more employees and recruit volunteers for both full and part-time positions.

For additional information about the shelter, including employment and volunteer opportunities, contact at Lisa Belcastro at or 508-560-3678.