More than ten years ago Lisa Jacobsen and Sue Rekenthaler, long-time volunteers at the PADS overnight shelter at what was then the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Woodstock and with other services to the homeless, became concerned about what happened to their friends and clients when the seasonal church shelters closed May through September. They learned that many camped out and others slept in cars or couch surfed. Many had no reliable shelter once benefits like Social Security, disability, or unemployment ran out to pay for motel rooms.
They solicited donations of supplies like mosquito spray, sun lotion, non-perishable food, and personal hygiene items from members of the Congregation and with a little seed money from the church’s Social Justice Committee launched Compassion for Campers.
Weekly distributions of camping gear and supplies were held on Mondays on the grounds of the PADS office on Kishwaukee Valley Road in Woodstock and a lunch was provided by volunteers. Pioneer Center provided shuttle bus service to the site from area Metra Stations and some known campsites.The Tree of Life Men's group hosted the final Compassion for Campers Lunch at the PADS headquarters in 2019. Serving the chow were Randy Meyer, Patrick Murfin, Don Metivier, and John Murphy.
The lunches and volunteers were provided by congregation committees and groups as well as other church communities and organizations like 4H Club and Rotary. Almost as important as the gear and food was the fellowship. Volunteers and clients sat down together to eat and socialize. Many clients said it was one of the few times they felt seen, heard from, and valued as individuals rather than nuisances.
The system worked well until the Coronavirus pandemic hit in March of 2020 which not only closed the church shelters—it was going to be the last season for those anyway—but the PADS facility on Kishwaukee and the new permanent shelter site in McHenry which was getting ready to open. All social service agencies shut down personal services and Pioneer Center bus service shut down. Homeless clients including long time summer campers and those who had never done so were suddenly locked out of everything with no time to prepare.Compassion for Campers made the front page in July 2020. Sue Rekenthaler and Patrick Murfin set up gear for distribution at the First Methodist Church in McHenry masked for safety during the pandemic.
Compassion for Campers shifted gears to set up distributions of supplies in the parking lots of churches in Crystal Lake, McHenry, and Woodstock. When cold weather set in the distributions were shifted monthly to sites that could accommodate indoor distribution following strict Covid 19 precautions. One of those sites was Warp Corp, 114 Benton Street in Woodstock which already was serving some homeless. Compassion for Campers began to keep Warp Corp supplied with gear which could be available daily on a walk-in basis.
During the dire and extended cold and snow emergency last February Compassion for Campers was able to donate $4000 to supplement emergency hotel accommodations from Federal funds available to McHenry County.Sue Rekenthaler with gear at the first Community Empowerment Shower event at Willow Crystal Lake on June 25.
Now the Community Empowerment Shower event at Willow Crystal Lake, 100 S. Main Street, which offers comprehensive, one-stop services is an opportunity to more effectively reach and serve our clients. The cooperative efforts of many organizations and social service agencies brought out many of our unhoused friends and neighbors for a wide variety of services. Compassion for Campers served many more clients with gear and supplies than we have at any other distribution since the Coronavirus pandemic began. Everyone involved is eager to make this a monthly event. The next one will be on Friday July 16.
Considering the success of this first event held yesterday, June 25, we have suspended our rotating church site distributions to concentrate on keeping supplies at Warp Corp and participate in this exciting new collaborative effort.
We look forward to adapting to continuing changes in need.
Compassion for Campers is funded by donations from Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry members, some small grants, donations from churches associated with the Faith Leaders of McHenry County, and generous donations from the general public. We also accept some material donations of clean, like-new gear and some clothing items, but ask that donors contact us to find out what we need and can use. Our storage and transportation capacities are limited.
Contributions to support Compassion for Campers including building reserves for emergency hotel rooms during cold and snow emergencies this winter can be made by sending a check made out to Tree of Life UU Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road, McHenry, IL 60050 with Compassion for Campers on the memo line. The donations are placed in a dedicated fund and not used for any other purpose. Tree of Life also donates all the administrative expenses of the program so 100% of all donations go directly to client assistance.
For more information contact Tree of Life Social Justice Team Chair Patrick Murfin at 815-814-5645 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .