Glen Shelly (holding sign) leads walkers from Reba Place Church down Ridge Avenue past the Unitarian Church of Evanston, site of one of Interfaith Action’s overnight shelters. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

To kick off events honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 17, Interfaith Action of Evanston led some 600 people and 40 local faith communities on a two-mile walk through downtown Evanston to raise awareness of the city’s homeless population.

Interfaith Action has held the Walk for Warmth event for three years in a row, including a vehicle caravan on MLK Day in 2021 to avoid health risks at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, before vaccines became available. 

Melissa Appelt, President of the Board of Interfaith Action, said the annual walk has become an important source of funding for the organization, which operates an overnight shelter for the homeless and a warming center open every day where unhoused individuals can go for warmth and food in the winter. Appelt said she expected 200 people to join Monday’s march, but almost 600 people ended up registering when all was said and done. 

“The great thing about this event is that it’s not just about fundraising. It’s really about a community recognizing the situation and acting together,” Appelt said. “I really love to see these people out for this cause, and I also think it fits so well with Martin Luther King Day and the whole notion of acting together in the beloved community.”

Appelt also noted that the route of the walk highlighted various churches, faith-based organizations and nonprofits that serve as shelters or other resources for the homeless in Evanston.

Heading up the crowd on Monday was a “leadership team” of elected officials and other influential organizers in Evanston. Mayor Daniel Biss, Evanston Community Foundation President Sol Anderson and the Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, President of the Evanston chapter of the NAACP and senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Evanston, were in the vanguard marching with several members of the City Council and representatives of the Police and Fire Departments. 

The walk served as the perfect way to start the holiday, Nabors said, adding that he rarely has seen so many different people and community groups come together for the same cause at one time. The mission of the walk and the huge gathering of different organizations encompassed basic community values and the idea that there are “no big I’s and no small U’s,” he said. 

The procession of walkers stretched several blocks. This group passed the Lake Street Church of Evanston. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

As Appelt mentioned, King strongly believed in and fought for universal access to housing and the eradication of poverty. In a speech at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1966, he spoke of giving equal opportunities to “all of God’s children” and of “making real the promises of democracy.” 

“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty,” King said in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address. “Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed and shabbily clad.”

Mary Beth Roth, who volunteers at Evanston’s shelters for the homeless and marched Monday with a group representing the faith community at Alice Millar Chapel, said many people in Evanston often fail to fully recognize that there are unhoused people living among us every day. She said the Walk for Warmth is about being in community with other residents and showing that Evanston cares and will continue providing as many resources as possible to the hungry and homeless. 

Bringing together so many different people and groups for one cause also acts as “the antidote to the division in this country,” Roth said. 

As the two-mile walk concluded, participants went their separate ways to warm up with hot chocolate or to get to the next event of the day, but the funding raised through donations and sponsorships for the event will help Interfaith Action offer shelter to the homeless for many months to come, Appelt said.

“For me, this collection of faith communities, citizens and civic leaders gathering in recognition of a just cause is the embodiment of Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community,” Appelt told the crowd Monday. “We know, too, that this day is dedicated to service, and as Dr. King once observed, you don’t have to be an expert to volunteer. All it takes is a willing heart.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...