Every year, with the support of so many of its friends, The Night Ministry holds holiday celebrations for the individuals and families served through all of its programs.
A major part of the celebrations are the over 1,200 holiday stockings that are being distributed this week during celebrations at the Health Outreach Bus and by the Street Medicine Teams. According to Gail Bernoff, Manager of Volunteering, Community and Congregational Relations at The Night Ministry, the contents of the stockings aren't what you might expect.
"The stockings are going to people who are experiencing challenges that are different than those we face," she said. "Many of them are staying outdoors, are precariously housed, or are living in poverty. So we want to give out things that are more useful that they wouldn't necessarily have the funds to buy, such as deodorant, hand and foot warmers, hand cream, and thermal socks."
"The feedback that we've gotten is that people appreciate this. We know that everything in that stocking is going to be put to good use," she added.
Congregations, organizations, and families across the Chicago area have made it a tradition to gather items and stuff the stockings before delivering them to The Night Ministry. Bernoff said a few groups have also purchased and wrapped the age-appropriate presents that will be given out to children at the Health Outreach Bus.
Last week, young people served by The Night Ministry's Youth Programs gathered for a celebration that included a sit-down meal with table service, games, and music. Devin Redmond, The Night Ministry's Residential Services and Training Coordinator, said it's important for the agency to provide a festive, memorable event this time of year.
"No young person wants be in a shelter. They would love to be in a secure, safe, stable place with family that loves and cares about them," Redmond said. "But the reality is that isn't always the case for everyone. So that's where we try to step in and make sure that people can build positive memories around the holidays."
"You can't necessarily override things that have happened to people in the past, but brain science shows that the way to heal these things is to continue to have more positive experiences," he said.
As they do every year, last Thursday volunteers from Anshe Emet Synagogue held their Festival of Lights alongside The Night Ministry's Youth Outreach Van in Lakeview, a celebration with food from a variety of seasonal traditions, from Hanukkah to the winter solstice. Synagogue members also set up a gift table, from which guests could choose from cold weather gear such as hats, gloves, and long underwear and items such as body lotion and manicure sets.
Janine Landow-Esser, one of the volunteers behind the Festival of Lights, says one of the most touching aspects of the evening is seeing how guests aren't just thinking about themselves.
"As they look over the gifts, you hear them saying, 'This would be nice for my mother or sister.' So they're shopping for someone else important in their lives."
Residents of The Night Ministry's Youth Housing Programs will also receive a holiday bag with clothing items such as pajamas, slippers, underwear, and robes.
"We try to give each resident a $25 gift card so they can do a little shopping for themselves or someone else in their life," said Bernoff.
While The Night Ministry is no longer accepting gift stockings, you can still make a contribution, one that will last beyond the holidays. We welcome gift cards ($25 to Target, Walmart, or Kohl's; $10 to Walgreens, CVS, Jewel, or Mariano's; $5 to McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, or Dunkin' Donuts) that can allow The Night Ministry's clients to buy such essentials as food, medicine, and clothing. Gift cards may be dropped off at our temporary office at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue in Chicago, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Or they may be sent via U.S. Postal Service mail to: The Night Ministry, 4711 North Ravenswood Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640. If sending through other services such as FedEx or UPS, please send to The Night Ministry, c/o Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660.
You can also purchase an item for our clients from our Amazon Gift List at https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1OQTFA5RCDTFX/ref=cm_sw_em_r_z_pg__wb