One person can make a difference

Author: Gene Stowe

Southwest Airlines employees in Chicago volunteered to help John Schafer (at far right) distribute aid to the homeless on the streets of Chicago

Photo: Southwest Airlines employees in Chicago volunteered to help John Schafer (at far right) distribute aid to the homeless on the streets of Chicago

John Schafer serves food in the South Dining Hall. For the past six months, he’s also served hundreds of the homeless in Chicago and across Michiana, distributing thousands of dollars of donated goods.

Schafer was so moved last fall when he saw shoppers ignoring the needy on the sidewalks of Chicago that he started Chicago Five for the Homeless, a name that reflects how much help could happen if each of the city’s 3 million people gave $5.

“I had encountered the homeless,” he recalls. “We’d try to give a dollar or two as we encountered them. It struck me as it was getting colder—‘what are these people going to do now?’ One day I stood back for about 10 minutes and watched how many people shopping in the downtown area on the sidewalk would totally ignore the homeless and walk past them like they were invisible. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”

On his next visit to Chicago, Schafer took 25 blankets and gave them to grateful people on the sidewalks. He started making trips twice a month and adding toiletries, water, snacks, hats, gloves, scarves, hand warmers and clothing.

With support from his Notre Dame colleagues as well as Chicago leaders, the Facebook page has grown into a registered Indiana nonprofit that has distributed $5,000 worth of clothing plus other goods and expanding the donations to local shelters.

Dozens of homeless people receive donations in Chicago’s Daley Plaza

“The employees I work with have been very supportive,” Schafer says. “They were bringing in bags and bags of clothing. The managers have helped. There was an abundance of leftover coats that had begun to accumulate from students. Those went to the Center for the Homeless. They are so close and convenient and serve a lot of homeless people there. We are reaching out to many shelters at this point.”

In addition to the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, Chicago Five supplies Faith Mission in Elkhart and Fellowship Mission in Warsaw. The need is greater in Chicago, which has more than 166,000 homeless including 25,000 unattended youth, Schafer says.

The effort has won support from 15th Ward Democratic Committeeman Raymond Lopez; official backing from US Airways, whose employees have rallied to the cause; and help from others who donate and distribute.

“We focused our attention there, but we also wanted to help the homeless shelters locally,” he says, adding that his closets and car are usually stuffed with donations. “We had more than we needed. We’re fortunate that we’re able to help both communities.

“We’ll be doing it year-round, because the needs of the homeless don’t end in the winter. We’re hoping to reach out to other cities. We’ve impacted a lot of people. This is just the beginning. I found out that one person can make a difference.”

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