Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!!!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

The 2018 holiday season at CCO has been filled with fun events, festive food, parties, and gifts for all of our shelter guests. We want to say a special thank you to the donors that have made the season bright by donating financially, creating an event, volunteering or purchasing gifts that have blessed our shelter guests. The children, parents, and single adults, sheltered at CCO have felt encouraged and remembered this year! 

As you celebrate the holidays this year please remember those experiencing homelessness and consider making a year-end donation. Your gift is 100% tax deductible and you will have the knowledge that you are a part of making the holidays and every day brighter for our shelter guests.

CCO staff, volunteers, and residents would like to say a huge Thank You to each one of our generous Christmas donors, volunteers, and supporters! 

Remembered and Cared For…

 

Thank you to all the Christmas elves who worked day and night gathering, sorting, wrapping, and organizing donated toys so that everyone at Cornerstone felt remembered and cared for this Christmas. Thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and CCO Board Members who helped make everything come together for the families and nearly 150 children sheltered at CCO.

It’s not too late to give! Please consider making a donation that will provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and individualized supportive services to the families and singles sheltered at Cornerstone.

Outpouring of Generosity

A tiny segment of one Cornerstone Christmas list…

We are so grateful for each of our Christmas donors. We have had an outpouring of generosity this Christmas. Thank you to everyone who has purchased new toys or made a financial donation toward Christmas gifts and parties for our shelter guests.

We all experience the holidays but your generosity ensures that our shelter guests feel remembered, cared for and appreciated this Christmas. Thanks for thinking of others this holiday season!

If you haven’t made a donation toward this Christmas feel free to visit our Donation Page by clicking here. Once there, be sure to choose “Christmas” in the designation box. If you would like to donate toward fulfilling the day-to-day mission of CCO by providing shelter then choose “where most needed.”

Thank you!

CCO Christmas of Yesteryear

The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

This CCO narrative by Sandra Ramsey first appeared in the December 2011 Newsletter.

Our holiday season opens with a homeless man appearing in our lobby whose appearance greatly resembles that of Santa Claus. He disappears before we can figure out how to help him. Is even Santa Claus falling on hard times?

The weather outside is frightful. It is erratic and severe, causing Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) to go into emergency response mode. This means that even though our bed spaces are full, we will continue to take anyone in from the cold and find a place inside for them. The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

Back and forth on Clifton, staff and residents alike make their way between our two buildings. No one really dashes through the snow. It’s more like plod, slosh, and stumble as the wind whips us along.

The first-holiday dinner is served by one of CCO’s faithful volunteer groups. Turkey and all the trimmings are eaten, and gifts passed out. There is a Christmas concert in our dining room … beautiful music to soothe and encourage. Although visions of sugar plums probably don’t dance in the heads of the homeless, our residents begin to see that they, too, can celebrate this holiday season.

Over the past couple of nights a total of three men come out of nowhere into our warming center … are these the wise men following a star to find shelter?

Because of the weather, our aging drain pipes decide to give out in our dining room, where we serve food to hundreds of people every day. Flood water threatens our kitchen and quick plans are made with our long-suffering plumbers. Jackhammering of the dining room floor begins merely days before Christmas. The giant fake Christmas tree, middle lights out, garland askew, stands watch over the men as they work.

Meanwhile, our team of elves is sorting and tagging, wrapping and bagging hundreds of toys and gifts. Will there be enough for everyone? Will the bad economy take its toll? Will our many faithful contributors and volunteers understandably hold back this year? Not here, not with our friends.

I take a few minutes to talk to a man and woman who have been sleeping on the loading dock behind the Aragon Theater. For some people there is never room at the inn. I tell them to send word to the others living on the dock to come in from the cold. We will make a space for them.

Another Christmas concert is played right on top of the plywood that covers the drain pipes in the dining room. This one features a wide range of musical acts. Our residents are treated to everything from step-dancing and blues to traditional Christmas carols. And where else could you see a Goth band perform “The Werewolf’s Christmas”? Some dance, some clap, and all eat Christmas cookies. It is a time of relaxing and rejoicing while yet another snowstorm swirls about outside.

A Christmas wreath arrives from a local agency. Two hours earlier they held a memorial service to honor the homeless who died in the last year. We display the wreath for a few days, contemplating the sadness that it represents. Then it ends up in the home of one of our former homeless friends, where it reclaims its original purpose of promoting holiday cheer.

A couple comes bearing beautiful handmade Raggedy Ann dolls for gifts. A woman donates money in gratitude for finally finding her lost sister in our single women’s program. Toys for Tots pulls up with bags bulging full of toys. Our team of elves bustles around handing gifts out to everyone. Exclamations of delight and amazement ring in our ears.

Meanwhile, back outside, we all continue to stumble over the snow which has now hardened into deep, icy ruts. A white Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be. It becomes even more difficult for all to navigate back and forth between our buildings. We are on a side street and will be the last to get plowed. Not to worry, I get lessons from my less-fortunate brothers and sisters, who take this weather in stride and continue to cheerfully haul supplies back and forth, taking out the garbage, holding doors and helping little kids and elderly wade through the snow and ice. Images of Whoville come to my mind. They live the struggle of life every day and I am thankful that even on this tucked-away, snow-choked street, the holiday season has arrived for the homeless.

Another festive feast and then another. At the height of the severest weather a group comes through the frigid air and swirling snow to prepare and serve their traditional meal of Italian beef. I am profoundly humbled and thankful that these volunteers, who could easily call off their visit, choose to plow through and arrive with the determination of the Comcast man. And everyone enjoys another wonderful holiday meal. At the end of this night, when all is bitterly cold, what appears in my sight is not eight tiny reindeer but eight little children with Mom and Dad, being dropped off by the Chicago Department of Human Services van. Somehow their plans to be in Texas for Christmas are thwarted and they will spend Christmas with us. Not missing a beat, the elves make up bags of presents for them, drawing again from the generous donations of so many people.

Johnny, a former client in a wheelchair, is on the phone to us. He, too, slept on the loading dock before coming to CCO. Deteriorating health sent him to the hospital, but he recovered enough to be able to stay in a nursing home. Not to be overlooked at Christmas, Johnny is now calling us to please deliver “snacks” to him. Again from our plentiful donations, my husband loads up snacks and extra clothing for Johnny and a couple of other folks we know in the home. Next, some volunteers let us know that a shelter on the other side of the city is short on food. Back in the van, my husband drops off surplus food to them, because we can.

Another family arrives on our doorstep from the Department of Human Services. We take them in and help them get settled. Their teenage son suffers from autism, and the changes going on around him are very difficult for him to handle. We get word that they have a dog that helps the boy to settle. Can we house the homeless dog too? Without losing a beat the answer is, “Yes, we can.”

T’was the night before Christmas and last minute details are being worked out. Many are still stirring and someone points out an elderly man sitting alone in our lobby. Putting my innkeeper hat on again, I walk over to him and as he sits and we talk. To say that he reminds me of the peaceful Babe in the manger is really a stretch of the Christmas analogy. But completely helpless like a child is this man in utter desperation, hanging onto the walker in front of him. How long has he been here? How did he get here? Who has sent him and what can we do for him? Hardly able to talk due to pain, he states that he lives on the streets. He just wants to go to Cook County Hospital where he can get his ankle fixed and find a chair to sleep in. He fell an hour earlier out in the snow and broke his ankle. A bone was protruding and he is bleeding. Other friends on the street people referred him to CCO, and one person off the street himself, donated their walker to him since he is obviously worse off than they were. I can only hope I would be that unselfish. We call the ambulance and send him off, knowing that his Christmas has just been upgraded from the streets to the hospital.

All in the same holiday season the weather changes abruptly. The snow melts and it begins to rain. Up on the rooftop, drip, drip, drip. Again, no reindeer here, but a team of us join together to sweep several inches of water down a drain to slow the leaking. Miracle roofers appear and seal up enough holes to take us through the holidays.

Extra food, extra volunteers, water from beneath, water from above, drilling dust and swirling snow. The star continues to guide needy people to our doorstep, our neighbor requests prayer for his store clerk, the garbage compactor sticks, tables shift to accommodate more festive dinners and treats, bags of donated coats come in, and people shop through them. Life happens here in this harbor from the elements. Loneliness stops at these doors. The holiday celebrations of the poor and needy…good conversations, good advice, good food, good support… Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is right.

________________________________________________________

To each and every one of our many donors and supporters, the above recap of our holiday season is a small effort to try to convey to you a snapshot of what your time, effort, and finances accomplish. You bring the holiday season to our doorstep and without you, all of these stories would have had a different ending. While you were concentrating on providing gifts and food, you also were sheltering the autistic boy’s family and their dog, you provided Christmas at the last minute for the family of ten, and finally, on Christmas Eve, you helped send the man with the broken ankle to the hospital. Wonder and joy are being brought into the lives of the multitude who are crossing our threshold this holiday season. Without you, this work could not be done. I hope that you are beginning to see where your time and effort goes. Thank you so much and please visit us again when you can. Happy Holidays!

Run for Shelter!

Team CCO went the extra mile to help alleviate homelessness at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon! It’s not too late to donate. All the funds raised by Team CCO goes directly to support homeless families and adults at CCO!
We are impressed and grateful to every one of the Team CCO marathon runners who trained, fundraised and raised homeless awareness for Cornerstone families and single adults! We also want to thank everyone who joined us in the Charity Block cheer tent! Of course, we can’t forget all those who donated to CCO through our fabulous runners! This year, over $12,000 was raised to help alleviate homelessness in Chicago. If you’d like to make a donation today, visit our Team CCO Marathon page here.
These dollars represent practical help that will go toward nutritious meals, safe shelter, supportive services, and other essential needs for those sheltered at CCO.

Chicago’s Best Baker Contest!

On Saturday, October 20th amateur bakers from all over Chicago competed at the first-ever Chicago’s Best Baker Contest. All proceeds from this fun event went to the families and single adults sheltered at Cornerstone. Over $2,500 was raised and a lot of delicious desserts were tasted. Those who purchased tastings and raffle tickets made this generous contribution possible. Thank you!

Congratulations to every who baked! Thank you to everyone who attended.
The list of winners in the categories of pies, cakes, cookies, pastries, bread, international, and showstopper appear below the photo gallery.

Here is the list of the winners in each category:

Chicago’s Best Bread Baker is Benjamin Holland!
Second Place Winner-  LeAnne Bennion
Third Place Winner –  Sara Witt

Chicago’s Best Cake Baker is Madeline Rocker!
Second Place Winner – Carolyn Berard
Third Place Winner – Meredith Chiarelli

Chicago’s Best Cookie Baker is Lori Szudarek!
Second Place Winner – Meredith Chiarelli
Third Place Winner – Sarah Hilz

Chicago’s Best International Baker is Luke Lusk!
Second Place Winner – Sabrina Markvaldas
Third Place Winner – Carolyn Berard

Chicago’s Best Pastry Baker is Audrey O’Shannah!
Second Place Winner – Luke Lusk
Third Place Winner – Emma Rosenthal

Chicago’s Best Pie Baker is Maria Del Favaro!
Second Place Winner –  Luke Lusk
Third Place Winner –  Judine O’Shea

Chicago’s Best Show Stopper Baker is Meredith Chiarelli!
Second Place Winner – Deanna Stegal
Third Place Winner – Sarah Hilz

Congratulations, everyone!

 

Strength From Each Other

Strength From Each Other

The large brick building reads “7030” and we know we have arrived at Rochelle and Dionte’s new apartment. A nearby grassy lot dotted with bright yellow dandelions makes the corner feel open and friendly. Trees, lush with leaves, stand tall along the street and black iron fences surround each sturdy brick home and apartment building. Brittany and Amanda, the family’s CCO case managers, are especially excited to visit everyone and see their new home.

With an enthusiastic smile Dionte meets us outside and leads us up the stairs to his family’s second-floor apartment. Rochelle meets us at the door with baby Leia in her arms. Two-year-old Dionte Junior toddles over, curious to find out who has come to visit.

Rochelle and Dionte’s apartment is bright, spacious and clean. We immediately feel the warmth of a real home and the energy and liveliness that small children bring to a space. After hugs and a quick tour, we settle down in the living room to talk.

Rochelle, an attentive and affectionate mother, cradles baby Leia in her arms and talks about her work and her dreams. As she speaks she patiently puts the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth and gently plays with Leia’s tiny curls. “I appreciate Cornerstone but we needed our own place. Being homeless was filled with ups and downs. Sometimes we felt ready to give up but then we looked at our kids and knew we couldn’t give up.”

Rochelle has just completed training to be a full-time driver for a company that transports people with physical challenges. The work helps others and also gives Rochelle the opportunity to work full-time and over-time. “It will keep us housed and on our feet.”

Her true employment ambition is to study to become an ultrasound technician. “That is the next step,” she says with a smile. She recalls each of her children’s ultrasounds with pleasure and wants to be a part of bringing that joy and excitement to other expectant families. “Sharing those moments with other families would bring me joy and I would have a skilled, well-paying job that I love.”

With a friendly and tenacious personality, Dionte is pursuing a brighter future with his family’s security at the heart of his plans. Dionte, a self-described family man, has committed to his role because as a child, he lost his own father to gun violence. “My dad died when he was nineteen. He didn’t get to see me grown up. I want to see my kids grow up.”

Dionte explains how he has had the employment door slammed in his face repeatedly due to a felony in his past. “But I kept trying. I got a job at Target because I was honest about my past offense and they hired me because they could see I was a hardworking person who didn’t lie. I work the night shift and Rochelle works the day shift; that way one of us is always with the kids.” Dionte is on a waiting list for a construction work apprenticeship and he is enrolled in acting classes at Chicago’s famous Second City Acting Program. Energized and unwilling to pin all of his hopes on one occupation, he is remaining flexible and open to new opportunities.

When asked what motivated them to make it through homelessness they both speak about their children, each other, and their family as a whole. “Homelessness can be a really depressing time but we got our strength from each other. We knew we couldn’t give up,” Rochelle explains.

It was a joy to visit one of CCO’s successful, ambitious young families. They have made it through homelessness with an even deeper commitment to creating a stable future for themselves and their family.

Rochelle had this to say about her experience with homelessness, “As dark as that tunnel may seem there is always going to be light at the end.” Dionte adds, “I want to always do better for my kids. I want to provide for them and make sure they have what they need. This is not the end. I feel we have a long way to go and I think we’re going to get there.”

They certainly will. Together.

(Names have been changed)

– By Beth Nicholls

Thank you, Hunger Walkers!

 

33rd Annual Hunger Walk!

Nearly 50 volunteers walked 3.1 miles at this year’s Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) Hunger Walk. CCO staff, volunteers, and supporters came together to fight hunger in Chicago. Their efforts produced 11,000 pounds of food for families and individuals sheltered at CCO.

Each step increased CCO’s food allowance with the GCFD, which in turn, will go toward nutritious meals for our shelter guests, food pantry patrons, and dinner guests. Thank you to everyone who joined us at this fun event!

By June, 2018!

This year so-far at CCO

  • 307 people have come to CCO for shelter
  • 27 families, and 28 single adults have been moved into permanent housing.
  • Over 35,000 meals have been served

And we’re only half way there!