Blessing Bags and Blankets for the Homeless

Offering Dignity and Warmth to Chicago’s Tent Residents

March 2017
Arlene Siavelis Kehl and Katherine Siavelis
St. Andrew’s, Chicago, Illinois
It has always been a part of Philoptochos’ mission “to help the poor, the destitute, the hungry…the unemployed…”, but there are times in all of our lives when we encounter those in need who tug especially at our hearts.  One of those times was in the fall when our St. Andrew’s Women’s Philoptochos Society (SAWPS) and our local Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) students at Loyola University of Chicago learned of a group of homeless people living in tents under four viaducts along Lake Shore Drive in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
Problems Identified:  How will the residents in the tent cities survive the winter months?  What will happen to those residents if the city takes away their tents and forces them to relocate?  What happens to the viaduct dwellers if there are not enough homeless shelters for them to relocate?
Although we, the SAWPS and the OCF from Loyola, want to be compassionate and solve completely the problems of our fellow men, sometimes we can only offer partial, short-term solutions to help those in need as they face life’s challenges.  This was the case with the residents of the tent cities.
In talking with the residents, we learned that they needed blankets, essential clothing, toiletries and non-perishable foodstuffs, and wanted fast food gift cards to help them get by and survive during the winter and early spring.  These conversations led us to developing our two-gallon size Blessing Bags.  Each Blessing Bag contained a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush holder, comb, granola bars, fruit snacks and a McDonald’s gift card.  We sourced competitively Blessing Bag supplies along with the Blankets, assembled them, distributed them to the residents, and fundraised for sponsorships to offset the cost of the supplies and blankets.
Short-Term Solution Implemented:  Team of SAWPS members, OCF students and clergy visited the residents of the tent cities to minister to them in their time of need and to provide them with Blessing Bags and Blankets offering these individuals dignity and warmth during the cold months in Chicago.  May God bless the residents, keep them safe, and show how much we at St. Andrew’s care for our fellow men.