by Carol Alfus, Board President
Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation McHenry, Illinois
The Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) program of McHenry County, Illinois provides homeless people with food and shelter in area churches every night from October 1 through April 30. Since 1987, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock was a PADS site, with many of its members staffing shifts, welcoming and feeding guests, and doing laundry. In 2012, when the church moved to neighboring McHenry, and eventually changed its name to Tree of Life UU Congregation, the PADS site was moved to another church, but many Tree of Life UU's continue to volunteer their time and support.
Lisa Jacobsen, a Tree of Life member and longtime PADS volunteer noticed a need when PADS sites closed in the spring. "You spend seven months of the year building relationships with some of these folks, then there's nothing for them, "Jacobsen said, noting that for five months clients must make do by living in their cars or camping in wooded areas around the county. The sudden withdrawal of services troubled Jacobsen. "I don't have a solution for homelessness,"she stated, "but I can cook," and in May of 2012, Compassion for Campers was born. Spearheaded by Jacobsen and supported by the Social Justice Committee of Tree of Life and the Woodstock Area Community Ministry (WACM), Compassion for Campers provides a cookout style lunch every Monday at the PADS office just outside of Woodstock. Beyond lunch and fellowship, PADS guests are provided with bottled water, insect repellent, batteries, hygiene products, and other necessities to help them get through the week. All food and supplies are donated and lunch was staffed by Tree of Life or WACM members. "The first year we did fifteen Mondays, last year we did seventeen Mondays, and this year we are able to cover nineteen weeks," Jacobsen reported.
Jacobsen gets the word out about Compassion for Campers through the McHenry County Volunteer website, McHenry County College, and by reaching out to local businesses for donations of food and supplies. In 2013, Compassion for Campers became a community partner of Tree of Life's Second Sunday program, which offers financial support, and last year, she applied for and received a small grant from the Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. Jacobsen tells of a boy from a local Jewish Congregation who "adopted"Compassion for Campers as a project for his bar mitzvah, and collected two truckloads of food and personal items. The program averages between 25-35 guests each week, but has had as many as 42 people show up. Jacobsen says Compassion for Campers offers PADS clients a chance to have a relaxed meal, check in with volunteers, and get some much-needed supplies. "How can you not do something?" Jacobsen asks.