MLK Day of Service inspires volunteerism around Flossmoor

From movies to crayons to old T-shirts, Flossmoor residents and their neighbors came out by the hundreds to offer community service on Jan. 15, as part of volunteer events on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Volunteers collected food and clothing, connected with one another and reflected the values of King’s legacy.
Flossmoor Community Church hosted Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) guests, giving homeless men a place to stay for the entire day to bathe, eat and relax. 
“H-F is amazing at giving back to the community. A day like this helps because once you volunteer, you get the bug to do it,” said Deborah Okleshen, a local real estate agent who was there with a Baird & Warner Real Estate group. 
Okleshen was coordinating the check-in table, and said she has volunteered for PADS for about four years. She also serves as president of the Womens Board of the Cancer Support Center.  
PADS guest Terry Oakes felt good while eating his Portillo’s beef sandwich lunch, food that was donated by FCC members. Oakes stayed over the previous night and was able to shower, shave and pick out some clean clothes from the donation pop-up shop upstairs at the church.
Oakes said he became homeless after a 2013 work injury to his hip. His mother, the late Elois Oakes, used to volunteer for PADS, and he himself worked for a PADS food pantry.
“My mom said, ‘You remember this because you might need to be here someday,’” Oakes said, tearing up. “Now the people here serving me are people I used to volunteer with.”
Volunteer Pallas Bowers ran the PADS clothing shop and has volunteered on the Day of Service for four years. She said PADS guests reflect a cross-section of the community, and after volunteers get involved once, they want to come back.
“I live across the street and I see these guys and I think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ This could be any one of us. We could lose our job and become homeless,” Bowers said. “When we have new people who have never volunteered come in here, they see friendly faces, they recognize their neighbors and see that it feels good to help out.” 
The PADS guests were also treated to haircuts, a movie showing and musical performances. More than 100 volunteers helped over two days to host the PADS site.
Over at Flossmoor Village Hall, large groups of young people showed their community spirit by participating in volunteer activities. They wrote letters of support and thanks to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, brought in non-perishable food donations and advanced environmental safety.
Samara Zinnerman, 16, sat at a table peeling crayons with other members of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School National Honor Society. Organized by the Brownie troop of Western Avenue School, the project benefitted Scarce, a nonprofit that donates used crayons and also melts down old crayons to make “super crayons” for children with special needs.
Samara said she has significant volunteer experience through National Honor Society, Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson and with her family, though she joked that she’d never peeled paper off crayons before. No matter the activity, however, she said it’s critical to carry on King’s tradition of service to one’s community.
“When you look at the things Dr. King did when he was alive, we have to continue that,” Samara said. “Volunteering has to be a big part of our lives.”
Liz Ganshirt stood at a table flanked by young people cutting up T-shirts into shapes as close to squares as possible, turning them into cleaning rags. Ganshirt is a teacher aide in Homewood District 153, and since she had the day off, she brought her son Chad and a friend of his to village hall to volunteer. 
“I love the idea of doing a project on Martin Luther King Day. It’s a fun local thing to do,” she added.
Flossmoor School District 161 Superintendent Dana Smith visited a few of the service day event sites with his wife, Megan. The Smiths were impressed to see so many young people from the community come out to volunteer.
“It says they have their values in the right place,” Smith said. “When kids get out and do something like this, it makes our journey in education more valuable. This is one of the most important educational activities they’ll participate in all year.”

Photos by Mary Compton, except as noted.

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