Caring for Homeless Individuals with Shoes, Socks, and Toys

Jan 19, 2021

Residents of The Salvation Army’s Evangeline Booth Lodge homeless shelter were likely checking their calendars last week. They thought it was January, but an event at the shelter that provided them with brand-new toys, books, shoes, purses, and blankets – thanks to nonprofit organization Taste for the Homeless – made it feel like Christmas.

One More Hurdle

The ongoing pandemic has been difficult for so many across the greater Chicagoland area. The full physical, financial, and mental toll remains yet to be seen. For individuals experiencing homelessness, COVID has presented one more hurdle to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“We’ve had a lot of families get housing and leave, and then unfortunately they come back in a month or two,” said Lt. Sara Ray, Spiritual Life Coordinator at Evangeline Booth Lodge. “Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a couple families come back because they lost their housing. They weren’t able to get a job to pay for it because of COVID.”

Booth Lodge strives to be a haven for families with children who are suddenly homeless due to eviction, a disaster such as a fire, domestic violence, or other crises. Families are provided shelter, nutritious food, and access to case managers who develop a path to stability. But achieving that stability in the middle of a global pandemic hasn’t been within reach for many.

Restoring Dignity

“We all feel off. And I say this all the time, it doesn’t mean I’m any different than you,” said Michael Airhart, founder of Taste for the Homeless. “I had a job, I went to school, doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t receive what you receive. We should still be treated the same like it never happened.”

Taste for the Homeless provides warm meals to individuals living on the streets of Chicago six days a week. Airhart also regularly makes donations to homeless shelters. He said it’s important for him to bring items of the highest quality he’s able to get.

He and his team, along with the Chicago nonprofit Social Works, recently visited Booth Lodge to donate hundreds of gifts to the clients. The items included new toys and books, dozens of name brand shoes, socks, and some extras like purses, sweatshirts, and blankets.

“I believe in giving toys all year round, because you don’t know what a person’s going through, and as a kid, they don’t understand,” Airhart said. “They just know, I gotta follow mom, I gotta follow dad wherever they go. But to be able to have a toy and just to have it to hold, it brings that dignity.”

Full Hearts

Forty families at Booth Lodge benefited from the donation, including Victoria and her family.  

“What it means to me is there are people that do care about us that’s out there, that’s come in out of the cold, and they’re here to help us who are homeless,” Victoria said. “And it’s a blessing that they help us.”

Booth Lodge Director Carol Randolph appreciated the donation and said she enjoyed watching the children and adults pick out their own gifts during an especially difficult time.

“It makes my heart full, and it just makes me think that there are still a lot of organizations and individuals out here during the pandemic that are still trying to do good work for the homeless,” Randolph said.

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