Respond Now marks 50 years of community support

When local families walk in the door of Respond Now on Sept. 5, it will mark 50 years since the Chicago Heights-based social service agency opened its doors to help those in need.

Respond Now opened in 1969 as a referral and emergency care center to bring together the efforts of six churches. 

Five decades later, the agency is still providing a way for south suburban neighbors to help each other, an achievement that will be celebrated at Flossmoor Station on Sept. 19 with a fundraiser where community members can raise a glass and share their support.

Respond Now, originally founded to help struggling families in six suburbs, now addresses housing, hunger and health issues for 14,000 families annually in 22 suburbs: Chicago Heights, Park Forest, Sauk Village, Lynwood, Create, Monee, Peotone, Beecher, University Park, Steger, South Chicago Heights, Matteson, Richton Park, Olympia Fields, Glenwood, Ford Heights, Lansing, Thornton, Homewood, Flossmoor, Calumet City, Hazel Crest and East Hazel Crest.

This is an area that has been hard hit by economic changes, said Carl Wolf, executive director of Respond Now.

“The South Suburbs have a higher rate of poverty than the rest of Chicagoland, so the service we provide gives extra stability to the community,” he said.

“The volume of people we see is a sign our services have an impact. Everyone needs the basics: food, clothing and shelter. If we want our communities to be successful, it’s important to have the basics in place,” he explained.

Families pick up a week’s worth of groceries once a month at Respond Now’s food pantry. Some clients get money for prescription medicine. And when a financial crisis hits, the agency helps about 100 families a year stay in their homes through one-time payments covering the mortgage, rent or utilities. 

“They have to show they can pay their bills normally,” Wolf said.

The agency also offers rapid rehousing yearly for 30 homeless people.

When it was founded in 1969, Respond Now had a single employee, whose salary was paid by Catholic Charities. He led dozens of volunteers as they determined the need and how to meet it.

Today the organization is still volunteer driven, with more than 6,000 hours contributed every year. It is supported financially by area businesses, churches and individuals, as well as grant funding.

The fundraiser on Sept. 19 will provide a chance for community residents to hear live music, mix and mingle, and lend their support in honor of Respond Now’s 50th anniversary. Raffle tickets include an option to be “brewmaster for a day” at Flossmoor Station, noted for producing numerous award-winning craft beers over the past 25 years.

Additionally, Flossmoor Station will sell a signature beer during September for the social service agency, with a portion of the sale price going to Respond Now.

Respond Now Board President Patrick Gallagher said community support makes all the difference. 

“We are part of the community, and we were started by the community. The continued support gives us the flexibility to do the work the community entrusted to us 50 years ago, because all of our neighbors matter.”

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