Glencoe Union Church starts shelter work
Glencoe Union Church Associate Pastor Rebecca Anderson and some of the church's new confirmands prepared dinner at the church Saturday for temporarily homeles guests and themselves. | Irv Leavitt ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:29AM
After months of fits and starts, the Family Promise network of temporary shelters managed last week to set up shop in Glencoe Union Church.
Three families — a total of 10 people — stayed in a segment of the newly-converted basement, for a week ending Sunday morning.
That’s the way Family Promise works: churches and synagogues put the families up for only a week of nights at a time, so no facility is too burdened.
During the day, the guests commute in vans to schools and workplaces or the Evanston headquarters, where the kids play or do homework and the adults get help to prepare for a new start.
One of the three Glencoe families was led by a Jamaican woman, 25, who stayed with her daughter, 9, and son, three weeks, whose presence, before and after his birth, has been at the center of her tumultuous time in America.
“Being pregnant is kind of a disability,” the young woman said Saturday.
She became homeless in February when seven months gone, having emigrated from Jamaica last year to be with her American boyfriend.
“He said, ‘I have found somebody else,’” she explained.
She was turned loose in a strange country, with a little girl and a boy on the way.
A Registered General Nurse in Jamaica, she said she found that here, “No one wants to hire me because I’m pregnant.”
She and her daughter were shuttled from place to place, due to the combination of her “disability” and short money.
“I would do anything to get an apartment,” she said.
But in the meantime, her little family gets a chance to stay in places where she and her children are safe from negative influences, she said.
“Different families have different values,” she said of temporary homes she stayed in before being picked up by the network. “I don’t believe in everybody’s values.”
The program has brought benefits to the church as well, said Catherine Schulte, one of 40 volunteers at work this week at 263 Park Ave.
“This church, which used to be a place to go to on Sundays — now it’s become a home,” she said, as she tickled the infant.
“This helps the church community become a community.”
Saturday night, nine of the church’s confirmands — all boys of 14 or 15 — shared kitchen duty, shucking corn, cutting fruit, forming hamburger patties. Later, they’d share supper with the guests.
It was apparent to observers that just being asked to help in a kitchen was new territory for the boys.
“Not me,” exclaimed one, overhearing. “I’ve done this before. Once.”
Two of the week’s other meals had been handled by members of Glencoe’s St. Paul A.M.E. Church. Schulte said their visits brought the two church communities together in a much more substantial way than a joint Easter program had.
Union member Sarah Justice, who led the volunteer organization, said that she’s found that Family Promise gives at least one benefit that short-term homeless families crave — they don’t have to worry about going to typical homeless shelters, which often split adults and children.
“We can do it with minimal disruption,” she said.
The volunteer effort was especially beneficial to the church, because teens, adults and retirees all had jobs to do, in cooperation with each other.
“From young families to senior citizens, they were all participating,”
pastor David Wood said. “It’s been a very meaningful effort for our side, … and our guests’ side, too.”
The work — including transforming the church into a shelter — was often difficult and involved, ranging from cooking breakfasts and dinners to staying overnight to enhance the guests’ safety, Schulte said.
“It takes effort to help people,” she said. “And that’s a good thing.”