Members of the 42 congregations of Interfaith Action of Evanston (IAE) staff a weekday hospitality center for homeless people, coordinate soup kitchens throughout the week and overnight shelters during the winter months, and unload and pack food during the regular visits of the Producemobile of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Joey Rodger, a board member of Interfaith Action, said the organization “is not a staff-heavy organization but one that uses the congregation-volunteers” to do many of those things. Even so, she said, the board of Interfaith Action has taken on a new project, the Community Discovery Project.

With this project, Interfaith Action hopes to identify both the services now offered opportunities and services where nothing but the need now exists.

“The Community Discovery Project arose from a sense that our board had that there is more to be done in Evanston. Nobody knows what everyone is doing – we thought of what we could do more of,” Ms. Rodger said.

To that end, Interfaith Action has engaged the Executive Service Corps of Chicago. First, Ms. Rodger said, the group will “thoroughly document all the services currently available to Evanston residents who are hungry or homeless for whatever reason, make a comprehensive assessment of everything that homeless or hungry people need” and will identify gaps in those services.

There will be different services for different circumstances, she said, and eligibility and qualifications differ by program and agency.

Interfaith Action is looking for “the kinds of things that ministers would need to know if a parishioner has a crisis,” Ms. Rodger said.

For example, she said, chronically homeless persons may need a place to stow their belongings during the day, as they search for shelter or interview for jobs. “It’s shaming not to have a place to store your things.”

The consulting corps will also investigate best practices found both in literature and in real life – for example, how different organizations have solved the storage issue. They will also identify possible sources of funding that can be used to help fill the gaps in services.

A directory that will be available both online and in print will list resources, “and for each agency there will be a ‘how to help’ section,” Ms. Rodger said.

The intent in providing these services, she said, is not to do things for people but to do things with people.

Interfaith Action will share the results of the Community Discovery Project at a meeting, perhaps this coming January.By Ashanti Cole-Stallworth

The goal of Interfaith Action of Evanston is to bring the Evanston community together and help those in need. One of the ways the IAE helps people is through the Producemobile. The Producemobile is a semi-trailer truck that comes on the second Tuesday of each month to deliver food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository to Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St. The Produce-mobile returns later in the month, again loaded with food, to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. The next dates that it will come to the Crown Center are Aug. 13, Sept.10, Oct. 8, Nov. 12, and Dec. 10. It will be at Fleetwood- Jourdain Community Center on Aug. 24, and Sept. 24.

Many volunteers help sort the food for families. According to Interfaith Action’s website, in a recent year, more than 400 volunteers distributed thousands of pounds of fresh produce, milk and bread to more than 3,000 people. The food from the Producemobile fed close to 12,000 people.

Another way the organization helps is through its Overnight Emergency Cold Shelter Program. When it is really cold, below 20 degrees, every night from January to March, from 9 p.m. to 7a.m., homeless people can stay in one of Interfaith Action’s member churches or congregations. Each church hosts the overnight shelter for two weeks during the four month cold season.

In 2018, Interfaith Action “provided safe, warm shelter to 804 guests” and in 2019 the organization has “offered safe warm shelter for 2,651 guests.” Interfaith Action hopes to also be “open every night in late November and December this year.” Interfaith Action of Evanston has afternoon warming centers five days a week November through March with over 400 volunteers serving over 1,000 guests to help them get out of the cold.

The organization also operates the Hospitality Center for the Homeless. It is located at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge Ave., and is open Mon.-Fri. from 7a.m. to 11a.m. Guests can have a safe place to eat, food, advice from job counselors, access to computers, and computer training.

Interfaith Action Vice President Joey Rodger summarized the goal of the organization in just a few but powerful words by saying, “Every life is sacred.”

A Demanding Daily Drill

Many of the chronically homeless people in Evanston are continually on the move. Their daily drill can seem exhausting: Joey Rodger, a board member of Interfaith Action of Evanston, described what could be a routine day for chronically homeless people in Evanston. Those who are fortunate enough to have found a bed at Hilda’s Place shelter must leave by 7 a.m., but they can get to the hospitality center at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church from 7:30 until 11:30 a.m. Until dinner time at a soup kitchen, they might go to the library or roam the streets. In the evening, if temperatures are extreme, they might go to one of the City buildings that are open as temporary shelters until 6 p.m. or in some instances, later. Then it is time again to seek shelter for the evening.Ms. Rodger said, “For people whose lives are confused by trauma or mental illness or drugs – that’s a very demanding schedule.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...