The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gimme Shelter

 pads getting set up for the night
"Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.."
                - The Rolling Stones

dishes, and more dishes

“While we do our good 
works let us not forget 
that the real solution 
lies in a world in which 
charity will have become 
      - Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

My friend Pam and I have both been through the same wringer, and while we would have preferred an easier go of it, it helps to have a friend with whom you can really talk to and be yourself with. We get together every couple of months for coffee, usually at Starbucks (a company that supports marriage equality, but that's another blog...). Today we were just settling in to chat when a man walked by, returning to his table just behind us. I recognized him and smiled and was in the process of saying "hi" when I realized I had no idea how I knew this man. What came out of my mouth was, "hey, I know you, but I'm embarrassed to say I don't know how". He recognized me, but shook his head as I mentioned possible common places where we might know each other, yoga? workshops? church? meditation group? I knew I'd had conversations with him, but simply could not recall when and where. We all chatted a bit and then he went back to his computer and Pam and got caught up. Three hours later when we were leaving I turned to say goodbye to my friend from places unknown, and he looked me directly in the eye and said "I want to thank you for all the good work you do with PADS, I truly appreciate it." Of course. This man was one of the people I have got to know in my time volunteering for PADS. More specifically, this man was one of the homeless clients we shelter and feed.

making lunches
"The most beautiful people we have known 
are those who have known defeat, known 
suffering, known struggle, known loss, and 
have found their way out of the depths. 
These persons have an appreciation, a 
sensitivity, and an understanding of life 
that fills them with compassion, gentleness,
and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people 
do not just happen."  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Scotty, a long time volunteer sets up the pads
So, let me tell you about Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS as we call it. I have volunteered one night a month for about nine years now. On PADS nights I'd haul my kids and occasionally a friend or two, to the church where we, with many other volunteers, set up an overnight shelter for anywhere from 45-100 people without homes.

This means pulling out thin mattress pad, sheets, a blanket, a pillow and, if there is room, a chair for each homeless person, and placing them all in on the floor in one large room.

all ready to serve dinner
During this time we also bring together a hot and healthy dinner (baked chicken, potatoes/rice, vegetables, salad, rolls, dessert, coffee, drinks) and assemble bag lunches for each guest. Then, in the morning another crew comes in and makes and serves a bacon, eggs, bagels, and muffin  breakfast. In between there are people who volunteer to sit up overnight and watch over the guest while they sleep.

dish-washing - with STYLE
My job is in the kitchen. I'm in charge of making sure dinner gets set up, served, and cleaned up afterwards. This involves making sure all the food shows up (more volunteers bring in food they have cooked at home), that the food is warm enough, cold enough, cut up enough, or basically ready to serve people. I make sure Decaf coffee gets made, that there is milk out for the children that are allowed in early, that we have enough chicken pieces for the number of people we expect to serve (always a source of excitement), that the desserts get put out, that the tables are set, and that everyone has something to do, including the 5year old who has come with his parents and wants desperately to help.We have been short of chicken or potatoes or vegetables a few times. When that happens I either send someone out to buy chicken, make mashed potatoes for 70, toss a vegetable dish together, and once I made collard greens. Generally I have about 10 minutes to accomplish this task, so it is never dull.
hangin' by the desserts

Here are some of the things I want you to know about the people we shelter and feed.
  • There are always at least few families, with kids from infancy to adolescence. These kids have everything they own in a car or back pack, have no privacy, and still sit down before and after dinner and try to do their homework, because during the day they go to school. My kids have grown up playing with hundreds of different homeless children, some of whom they knew from school.
  • I've seen men carrying in suits so they can look presentable at their day job, even though they are spending the night on the floor of church crowded in with 70 other people, and one or two showers.
  • There are disabled people, sometimes with children, there is an 8year old girl who translates for her deaf mother.
  • I have seen all ages, races, faiths and apparent socio-economic statuses (people in suits, people in rags and everything in-between).
  • Not once in 9 years has any client ever been unkind, occasionally you will get someone who is grumpy or distracted (I know I would be), but for the most part, clients are gracious and grateful and say thank you,  some in a way that makes me want to cry.
  • After 9 years I still find myself surprised at the variety of people I see at PADS, the gentleman from the coffee shop for example, never would I have guested he had no home if I didn't see him at the shelter.
  • There are times when there simply is not enough space, and we have to turn people away. When this happens the PADS staff work very hard to find an alternate location for these people to spend the night. I hate sending people away.
  • The PADS organization is so much more than a place to sleep and a meal.
hard working AND good looking volunteers

 The following is from their website:

DuPagePads is so much more than a pad on the floor.

DuPagePads is about the journey home.

It’s about the journey from dependency to self-sufficiency. Not the shelter. Not the nights spent in a car, in a motel room or on the street. DuPagePads is a journey that begins with an extended hand, an affirming voice, and a trusting soul that will advocate undividedly for each individual.

The solution to end homelessness. Starts with housing.

The solution to end homelessness is more complex than providing individuals with food and shelter. Founded in 1985, DuPagePads is the largest provider of interim and permanent housing, coupled with support services in order to help individuals work toward becoming self-sufficient. These vital support services enable the individuals we help to receive case management and life coaching, employment support such as GED courses and job coaching, as well as engagement with employers—effectively stopping the cycle of homelessness.

DuPagePads IS the solution to end homelessness—because when someone believes in you, everything can change.

At the end of my shift we had fed 50 people, and people were getting settled in for the night. At the end of my shift it's not just about feeding and sheltering people. 

In the end, for me, it's about putting my beliefs in action, it's about caring for those in our community that need help. It's about treating every person with compassion and respect. It's about showing my own children how to treat people, that each person has inherent worth and dignity, and should be treated with respect and compassion. For no other reason than we are all human, and that this is how we should treat and care for each other.

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