By: Karli Saner, Assistant Director of Ministry & Service
Reaching from their kneeling, they take hold of a blue drawstring back. Inside they find—deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush, food, water, clothing, winter warmth, medicine and more.
“All for me?” many of them ask.
We reply, “Absolutely.”
They grin with renewed gratitude. And we take a seat next to them. We ask questions. We hear their stories. We accept them for all that they are now and all that we pray they will be. Some of them tell us where to find their friends in need.
“Ellen is caddy corner to us. You see her over there on the corner. She’s our friend and would love your company,” Wally tells us.
“Oh and Ricky is just down the street here, too,” says Cherish.
We open our eyes, squinting past the reflections of the sun beaming off buildings. We see them. We see all of them. We rise and respond.
On Saturday, January 21st, Cardinals in Action (CIA)—our service group on campus invested in meeting the needs of the local community—gathered 45 North Central students to join them for the 2nd annual NCC_Cares about the Homeless initiative in Chicago.
Last year, CIA launched this program out of a member’s desire to give back to the homeless community and more importantly, break down the stigmas related to homelessness. This longing birthed an opportunity for our students to rise above what the world says about people without a home; and instead, allowed students to engage counter culturally and meaningfully with people—who have names, stories, families—just like each of us.
This year, CIA nearly tripled their impact in care packages created and delivered as well as the number of student participants. Partnering with Yorkville’s 5th grade class at Autumn Creek Elementary School (ACES), a student’s home church, and the North Central community and Naperville businesses, we were able to create 120 care packages! My sister is one of the 5th grade teachers at Autumn Creek and when I asked about the fifth grade joining us in the process she said, “We have to. There’s no question. Our students need to continue to learn from college students and others who model selflessness and positivity in this world right now.”
ACES came through for CIA, collecting enough items throughout the month of December to pack 60 care packages for our project! I had the opportunity to go into the school and personally witness the packages being put together. There I saw 5th graders thrilled to do something good for someone else—thinking beyond themselves over the holiday season and embracing the opportunity to put a smile on someone else’s face.
And that’s exactly what those care packages offered 120 of our homeless friends on the streets of Chicago—a smile and hope. The students and I divided into 5 teams that scattered to into multiple neighborhoods downtown Chicago.
There we heard stories of people who hadn’t been acknowledged in over a week; a couple whose house had burned down and lost everything giving them no choice but to live on the streets; a veteran who has cancer and is fighting to live; a gentleman (who I recognized from the previous year) unable to find a job because of the way he looks, leaving him on the streets for now 17 years; and so many more. All their stories were filled situations and circumstances any person of any background, faith, career, etc could fall into. And yet, society tells us the homeless are “vagabonds” as a result of their own mistake. And while perhaps some find themselves in the position they are in because of their own mistakes, they are not beggars. These friends my group met that day and all the others…
They are people—they are you and me—worthy of being seen, heard, and given another chance. They care deeply for one another, supporting their friends in similar situations. They are some of the most joyful and thankful individuals in this world, counting each day as a blessing. And, they invite each of us to think differently and live differently—to rise and respond to a hurting, broken world each and every day.