A helping hand: Group aims to help the homeless

NAPPANEE — During a Christmas shopping trip to Chicago in November, 2012, John Shafer was touched by the many homeless people filling the streets. Shafer immediately felt the need to help them.
“I thought in a city of three million, if everyone could give five hours – or as little as $5 – what a difference that could make for those people,” said Shafer. “But I didn’t really think I personally could do anything, I’m just one person.”
Thoughts of how he could possibly help those with no roof over their heads continued to fill the Nappanee resident’s mind.
Two weeks later Shafer went back to Chicago with 25 blankets he had purchased with his own money. He distributed them to people on the streets in an effort to help them stay warm through the upcoming winter months.
That was the beginning of a calling that has led to Shafer visiting Chicago monthly since then.
Soon others began helping Shafer with supplies and he expanded to also sharing donations with area shelters helping homeless individuals closer to his hometown region.
Shafer has now formulated the not-for-profit Chicago and Michiana Five For The Homeless, Incorporated which reaches out to the area homeless from as far north as South Bend and south to Warsaw and includes all of Elkhart County. He does so by visiting the homeless in person and by delivering collected items to shelters and churches caring for those in need.
Donations are always sought and welcomed. Looking ahead to the winter months Shafer listed sleeping bags, blankets, coats, hats and gloves as major needs for those he helps.
Currently the most requested item is shavers/razors.
When Shafer takes carloads of items to meet people living on the streets his supplies include: food snacks, adult and children’s clothing, socks and shoes. He also includes washcloths, shampoo, deodorant, soap, hand and body lotions, hairbrushes/combs, and other toiletry items.
It is especially important that donated canned foods have the tab top lids where no can opener is needed.
Donations are sought each day to help equip Shafer for his monthly trips to Chicago and his regular trips to area homeless, shelters and churches.
In addition to donations of items and money, individuals and groups wishing to donate their time are valuable in helping Shafer make deliveries and visits.
“I can’t believe how much you get back from all of this,” said Susie Kocsis, a Nappanee volunteer who helped Shafer meet up with homeless individuals at the Broadway Christian Parish, 1412 Carroll Street, South Bend, on Aug. 22.
“It’s so humbling, and such a reminder of how much we take for granted every day because we are used to having most everything right there with us.”
During Kocsis’ time at Broadway Christian Parish – a United Methodist Church – she was exceptionally touched by one woman who was concerned because more than anything she felt the need to own an umbrella in order to shelter herself from rain both day and night as she lived on the streets. There were none in the donation boxes.
Kocsis heard the request and without hesitation went to her car, dug out her own umbrella and presented it to the woman in need.
“You would have thought she had just won a million dollars she got so excited!” Kocsis shared with tears filling her own eyes.
That is just one example of the rewarding experience brought on by donating not just money but also time to reach out to those in need.
Contact John Shafer by calling (574)383-8428, or Rodney Rabel at (574)221-9253, to arrange for pickup of any items you wish to contribute.
“We can always use new – or clean, gently used – adult and children’s clothing,” said Shafer. “And we can always use toiletry items – soap, shampoo, deodorant, razors, lotions – toothbrushes – everything really.”
Shafer stressed the need for warm clothes, sleeping bags and blankets to help prepare the homeless for the upcoming winter months and cold temperatures and snows.
To learn more about Chicago and Michiana Five For The Homeless visit www.facebook.com/chicagofiveforthehomeless.