The idea for No Room at the Inn began about 30 years ago at a Christmas party. Judy Crenshaw and Huw Howells, both avid collectors of Nativity sets, were lamenting that so few people could enjoy the variety and beauty of the depiction of that first Christmas. As they talked, they realized that their collections could be used to benefit those less fortunate, and what more appropriate group than the homeless? Thus the dreams began, to have a display of Nativity sets, invite the public, and have the proceeds go to the homeless. Because Jesus himself was homeless that first Christmas, Huw thought the name “No Room at the Inn” would be appropriate. The dream remained just that- a dream. Each Christmas, Judy, Huw, and Huw’s wife, Nora, would invite friends to their homes to enjoy the Nativities, and again remember the dream. As they put their collections away for yet another year, they resolved that “next year” they would make the dream a reality. However, Huw’s increasing illness, and the demands of Judy’s and Nora’s busy teaching careers prevented them from getting the dream off the ground. Nevertheless they never forgot the dream and hoped that “someday” the dream would come true. In July of 1993, Huw succumbed to his three year battle with colon cancer, and on July 15, he died. It was a month later that Nora decided to take advantage of the time afforded by her year’s leave of absence from teaching to get the ball rolling to try to make the dream of “No Room at the Inn” come true as a memorial for Huw. Nora talked to Judy, who was still enthusiastic about the project. As Nora and Judy talked to friends, there was great interest, and on August 8, 1993, eight excited and dedicated people gathered for the first planning meeting. Ideas were flying like autumn leaves in a wind. They were an ecumenical group, coming from St. Paschal Catholic Church in Thousand Oaks and First United Methodist Church in Camarillo.
The first task of the group was to find a place to display the Nativities. The Camarillo Junior Chamber of Commerce offered their store-front in the Camarillo Village Shopping Center as the venue for the display. The first hurdle was conquered. The variety of Nativities extended from very simple, inexpensive ones to those more elaborate and expensive. Some are tiny, others with figures two feet or more tall. They are made out of porcelain, clay, wood, metal, crystal, cloth, even seed pods. They come from a variety of places, such as Mexico, Alaska, Germany, Spain, Italy, and South America. In the 24 years since the first No Room at the Inn display, we have given over $435,000 to programs for the homeless in Ventura County. The display continues to inspire and delight those who view it. This year approximately 1000 people viewed the 638 versions of that first Christmas. Fifty-three countries and cultures were represented. On September 13, 2000, No Room at the Inn suffered a great loss. One of our founding members, Gina McMillan, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Her friends on the committee feel her loss deeply, for she was one of our hardest workers and most ardent supporters. We know that Gina has joined her husband, David, and Nora’s husband, Huw, in watching over us and our work of helping the homeless. The December 14, 1999, issue of Family Circle magazine featured an article about Nora and Judy and their dream for No Room at the Inn that triggered interest across the nation. Inquiries from people interested in starting No Room at the Inn displays in their own communities came from Alabama, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The Mission Statement of our group defines what we want to achieve: The purpose of No Room at the Inn is to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas by: 1. Focusing on the humble birth of the blessed Baby, Jesus, two thousand years ago. 2. Helping those for whom there is also “No Room at the Inn,” the homeless.