Several years ago, members of the church’s Overflow Ministry hosted a rummage sale. They were left with a range of items that were too good to cast off, so volunteers started a pantry, primarily of clothing for all ages.
They have been helping people through Respond Now in Chicago Heights, the seasonal PADS program for homeless men, a women’s shelter, Catholic Charities and a host of other organizations. At any time, the pantry is distributing between 300 and 500 articles of clothing a week, according to John Harvey, Overflow Ministry’s missions’ coordinator. Overflow Ministry also does overseas work.
The generosity of many has helped Overflow Ministry keep a good supply of clothing and items, but the clutter got to be too much and was taking over the empty rooms in the church’s meeting area. Harvey and church volunteers wanted to help the homeless and those in need, but sometimes finding just what they needed meant sorting through piles of clothing and looking for items hung from temporary racks made of two-by-fours.
Harvey went to visit a church in Tinley Park doing the same type of outreach program. The closets were neat and inviting. It gave him a clear picture of what Overflow Ministry could do.
Then members of Operation Nehemiah, whose volunteers share their carpentry skills with non-profits, stepped forward.
Over two weekends in October, the Operation Nehemiah volunteers measured, hammered and built shelving, storage closets and racks at Overflow Ministry. Harvey and coordinator Pam Isaac were overwhelmed with gratitude.
“We’re really excited because we’ve been working in a pretty messy situation for several years now. We were ready for a new face for our clothing pantry,” Isaac said.
With all that the ministry has to offer, the program now is much more than distributing clothing. It can offer housing, furnishings and in one case, a car that had been donated.
Harvey said Overflow Ministry is reaching out to homeless individuals and families to learn one-on-one what the needs are and work with them to find shelter, prepare them for employment and help them continue on the road to stabilization.
“One goal is to break down the stereotype of homelessness,” Harvey said. Homeless are pegged as substance abusers, alcoholics, victims of domestic violence, but Harvey said those issues are present across the population, not just in the homeless.
“You really have to take each individual story one at a time to truly understand what’s going on in their lives,” Harvey said. Through the ministry’s intake sessions, volunteers discover homeless tend to make poor choices, or have limited problem-solving skills that can push them back into homelessness, even after six months or more of progress.
Harvey said Overflow Ministry has in the past three years worked with 50 people who either were homelessness or helped prevent them from becoming homeless, “and 90 percent are still in housing because we work on their physical being, their mental being and their spiritual condition. That’s the glue that holds them together.”
Isaac, the pantry coordinator, is looking for volunteers willing to help at the pantry on a rotating basis. Also, Isaac can coordinate a drop-off of clothing or household items for use by Overflow Ministry. She can be contacted at 708-300-5855.