Rockford’s Friday Night Patrol Feeds Neighbors in Need
Every Friday night, Sharon Polaski serves dinner for a couple dozen of her neighbors. If it’s summer, there’s iced tea. If it’s winter, hot chocolate.
“If it’s really cold, we skip the hot chocolate,” Sharon said. “It’s more important for them to get back to where they need to be and warm.”
Sharon’s dinner guests are people in need throughout Rockford. Her Friday Night Patrol takes food donated by a local vending machine company – sandwiches, breakfast foods, and sweets – and distributes it in a couple parts of the city where people often go hungry.
Rockford Salvation Army staff started the feeding program more than 20 years ago in what was then dubbed “tent city,” an area of Rockford where the growing homeless population at the time formed a makeshift community. Though tent city is no more, the needs of the homeless and struggling in the city remain constant.
“If you need food and we have it, we’ll give it to you,” said Sharon, who took over the leadership of the Friday Night Patrol when her husband, Steve, passed away five years ago. He had led the feeding program for more than ten years. “After he passed, our kids said, ‘Dad would want you to continue this,’” she said. So she did.
“We serve up to 30 people each week, depending on the weather and time of the month – if they still have food stamps or if they’re out,” Sharon said. She and a couple volunteers give these neighbors in need food and provide information about Salvation Army programs if they ask for further assistance. “We don’t want to invade their privacy, but if they want to talk, we’ll listen.”
Those volunteers are usually Catherine Salser and her husband, who started helping out three years ago after he went through the Army’s rehabilitation program to overcome a substance use disorder. He volunteered to help himself stay clean, and Catherine volunteered in support.
“He needs to see this and go, ‘This could have, and at one point was, me,’” Catherine told local Fox news station WTVO. She said she’s learned not to make assumptions about homeless individuals and others in need. “Any one of us, at any time, can have that trigger and slip into their world.”
Sharon, too, has been moved by some of the stories of those they serve. “Many will share with others in their apartment,” she said. “It’s great that they have enough to share.”
“They know us and are happy to see us every Friday,” Sharon said. “They are thankful and tell us The Salvation Army is wonderful to be doing this.”
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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.