By Tom Siebert
Assistant director for community relations
PADS of Kendall County, IL
Darrell McGhee used to stay at a local homeless shelter. Now he volunteers at one.
Darrell, 35, was a guest last winter and early spring of Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, Illinois. Today, he has an apartment and a job as a forklift truck operator, thanks to the help of the nonprofit organization that serves west suburban Chicago.
“It feels like a lot of weight has been lifted off my shoulders this time,” he said, comparing a recent, cold December night to the one last year when he first sought food and shelter at the PADS site at Cross Lutheran Church in Yorkville.
“Every volunteer group needs someone who has been in the same situation as the people they are helping,” he asserted, after passing out clean white towels to three male and three female guests of the PADS site at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Boulder Hill, unincorporated Kendall County. “Anybody can volunteer but it’s nice to have a few people who have been here.”
Ron Freeman, the PADS site coordinator at St. Luke’s, said “it feels pretty good” to see Darrell coming back to the church to serve. Ron, who is in his sixth year as a volunteer, recalled that Darrell availed himself of the programs that PADS offers, particularly employment assistance. “I could see then that he was going to give back.”
Darrell was one of the more fortunate PADS guests because he owned a car. So every night that he was homeless, he was able to drive himself to the PADS sites operated throughout the week by local churches: Sundays at Cross Lutheran Church, 8609 Route 47, Yorkville; Mondays, Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ, 409 Center Parkway, Yorkville; Tuesdays, Harvest New Beginnings, 5315 Douglas Road, Oswego; Wednesdays, United Methodist Church of Plano, 219 North Hale Street, Plano; Thursdays, Trinity United Methodist Church, 2505 Boomer Lane, Yorkville; Fridays, Church of the Good Shepherd, 5 West Washington Street, Oswego; and Saturdays, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 53 Fernwood Road, Boulder Hill.
Lack of transportation is the biggest obstacle to finding a job and even finding a way to a PADS shelter site, according to Sidney Williams, who has been a guest of St. Luke’s, off and on, for three years. Sidney, 67, lamented the discontinuation of a Pace bus route that serviced nearby Oswego.
“It’s hard to get here without a vehicle,” said Sidney. “Instead of getting better, it’s getting worse.”
He was able to get to St. Luke’s on this night by first taking a Metra train to the Aurora station, where Ron picked him up and then drove him to the church. Sidney said he usually stays at PADS sites in DuPage County, which operates shelters year-round.
In Kendall County, PADS sites are open only from mid-October until mid-April, due to limited funding and volunteers. Information about donating or becoming a volunteer at a local shelter may be obtained online at www.kendallcountypads.org.
Ron, the site coordinator, said St. Luke’s has hosted as many as 18 PADS guests on Saturday nights, mostly during the Great Recession. He sees the lower number of guests as a sign that the economy is improving.
“People were losing their jobs and then they were losing their homes,” he said. “Hopefully, we were able to get them in the right direction. But even today, many people are only two paychecks away from being homeless.”
Dinner on this Saturday night at St. Luke’s was salad, meatloaf, corn, scalloped potatoes, rye bread, soda, coffee, and candy cane cake.
“The food is excellent,” said guest Wilbur Hines. “And you get a chance to stay clean. This is like being in a presidential suite.”
Each PADS “suite” featured a light-green plastic mattress, clean sheets, two blankets, a toothbrush, toothpaste, towel, bar of soap, and access to a shower––which St. Luke’s is able to provide because its shelter site is the school gymnasium.
Wilbur, 61, also had high praise for the hospitality of the volunteers. “This is not an act. This is who they are.”
He does not expect to be homeless for long because he has a car and a job as a meat cutter at a packing plant in Aurora. Wilbur even has higher hopes of saving enough money to place a down payment on a house. In addition to his meat-cutting job, he says he has applied for more work at a movie theater complex and a fast-food restaurant.
He had been living in Chicago with his sister but had a falling out with his employer, also a meatpacking firm. Wilbur prefers living and working in the western suburbs as opposed to the gang-ravaged neighborhood where he had been residing.
“You don’t want to stay in Chicago,” he cautioned. “It’s a helluva place. Anything can happen there.”
Darrell grew up three blocks away from St. Luke’s and now attends nearby River’s Edge Fellowship church. He was looking forward to taking Sidney to a potluck meal at his church the next day. And he was hopeful that all of the night’s guests would eventually become PADS volunteers like he has.
“They all have to find their own way.”