After McHenry County churches closed the rotating homeless shelters at the end of April, PADS clients had one relatively mild night before they were plunged into days of heavy rain and cold weather.
Record numbers had crowded the shelters all winter as the seemingly never ending economic crisis continued to shake out more victims. In addition to the chronic and long term homeless with their mental problems, substance abuse, health issues, and legal problems, the displaced this year include record numbers of the new homeless, previously middle class folks whose luck has run out with joblessness, under employment, divorce, and mortgage foreclosure. That includes whole families, women, and children who are totally unprepared to face the possibilities of camping out in clumps of remnant woods and living the dangerous lives of quasi-criminal squatters.
Last year, recognizing the plight of both the long term and new homeless and a shortage of services to help with basic survival, members of the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry decided to see what they could do to help out. Starting out working with their own cash and supplies begged from church members, they created Compassion for Campers.
The idea was simple. Collect and distribute the most needed items for those forced to camp out—bug spray, suntan lotion, bottle water, toilet paper, basic hygiene supplies, non-perishable food, gift cards for gas or meals, all the way up to sleeping bags and tents. Items to be distributed would be brought to the PADS office on Kishwaukee Valley Road outside of Woodstock every Monday. Volunteers also would prepare and share a picnic lunch with plenty of left-overs to take along. But it wouldn’t be a condescending soup kitchen kind or organization. Volunteers and clients ate together, socialized as equals, got to know each other personally.
As the word got out to the community, folks from other churches, clubs, and civic organizations pitched in to collect donations and to volunteer to host a Monday lunch. Individuals bought supplies and brought them to the U.U. congregation, 5503 Bull Valley Road in McHenry. People chipped change into collection jars. More stuff could be distributed.
By the end of the season Compassion for Campers was a self-organized but well-oiled machine. A musical benefit at the Church raised several hundred dollars much of which became seed money for operations this year. During the off season the program won a $405 grant from UUs for Social Justice, a consortium of Chicago area congregations. This week on May 12 the program will benefit from a Second Sunday Collection at the church which will raise several hundred more dollars.
For a program that started on a shoe string out of the pockets of a handful of volunteers, it is a good start to a second year. But the need is great and dwarfs our resources.
This year the first picnic of the season will be held on Monday, May 13 at noon at 14411 Kishwaukee Valley Road near Woodstock. You are invited to participate in a life altering event. Bring a salad, cookies, or supplies to share. Or just bring yourself and an openness to learn.
Individuals and groups wanting to volunteer to host a lunch between now and the end of September should contact Lisa Jacobsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sue Rekenthaler at email@example.com .
There is a drop box to receive donations of supplies at the church, 5503 Bull Valley Road in McHenry. Call the church office at 815 322-2464 to confirm hours when it will be open to receive donations. If you have a number of items to donate, you can e-mail Jacobsen or Rekenthaler and arrange a pick up.
Tax deductible monetary donations can be done with a check made out to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the words Compassion for Campers on the memo line. All donations go exclusively to direct goods and services for clients. None is used for “administration.”