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.

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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!

HeartFelt Craft Sale

HeartFeltGet your holiday shopping done, have fun, and support a great cause! Nestled in the heart of Wilson Abbey’s auditorium, local crafters will sell their wares! Live music will provide the entertainment and Everybody’s Coffee will be right there to warm you up with reasonably priced, tasty food and drink. 15% of all profit goes to support the mission of CCO!

Wilson Abbey is located at 935 W. Wilson Avenue in Chicago. The sale will be open from 1-4pm on Sunday, November 20. We hope to see you there!

Happy Holidays From CCO!

Happy Holiday from CCO

We hope that you have a joyous and happy holiday!

CCO staff, volunteers, and residents would like to say a huge Thank You to each one of our generous Christmas donors! The 2015 holiday season at CCO was filled with fun events, festive food, parties, and gifts for our shelter guests. We want to say a special thank you to the donors that made the season bright by donating financially, creating an event, volunteering or purchasing gifts that blessed our guests. Thank you!

Unique Gift Giving at CCO

Merry Christmas

We have had many parents tell us that their Christmas at CCO has been the best Christmas they’ve ever had. Hearing comments like that make all the work worth it!

We have a unique approach to gift giving at CCO. Instead of giving out gifts to the children ourselves. Gifts are delivered to the parents of each family wrapped and labeled. They are then able to celebrate the holiday when and how they choose. This way, parents feel empowered and able to give gifts to their children themselves. This simple shift in gift giving has really encouraged parents, which is especially important while they are experiencing homelessness.

Of course, parents aren’t left out! Many of our generous donors shop for special items that will make parents feel cared for over the holidays. One faithful donor has purchased new, fluffy robes for each of the mothers in our Hannah House program for years! This gift is always a hit.

Our single men and single women’s shelter programs always have a Christmas party that includes gift items, practical necessities, festive food, and music. The women even have a holiday talent show with singing, dancing and prizes!

We want everyone to feel loved and cared for. This is especially important as they experience homelessness. Thank you to everyone who has volunteered time, purchased new gift items, or financially donated to make the Holiday’s bright at CCO!

If you haven’t donated and you’d like to click here. Thank you!

AmazonSmile

AmazonSmileLogo

Donating to CCO through AmazonSmile is easy. Follow the link to choose Cornerstone Community Outreach as your Amazon Charity and Amazon will donate a portion of your total purchase to CCO at no cost to you. Millions of Amazon items are eligible and 0.5% of your total cost goes to CCO, and there is no limit to how much Amazon will give. Click here to go to AmazonSmile and learn more or to sign-up. Happy Holiday Shopping!

Click here to view our Amazon Wish List. The list consists of many of the basic needs our shelter guests request. Partner with us in providing practical necessities to those sheltered at CCO!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother's Day 2015

Since the mid-1980’s CCO has sheltered mothers with children. We are grateful for the privilege to shelter and serve homeless moms and kids. We’d like to say, Happy Mother’s Day, to all the mom’s sheltered at CCO and all the mom’s who support them.

Visit Our Stories and read about one of our successfully housed families.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Families Celebrate the Holiday at CCO!

Crystal post
On Tuesday morning, December 23, CCO staff and volunteers handed out gifts to all the families who stay with us at Cornerstone. Presents are also given to those families who were once homeless and are now housed, along with some parents and grandparents who can’t afford to buy their “little ones” anything this Christmas.
The tireless workers ensure that every child, along with every parent, receives gifts! It is truly remarkable! It involves many donors, volunteers and staff dedicating an enormous amount of love, time, effort and money for our families who are experiencing homelessness. Every year I marvel how it all comes together and how hundreds of women, men and children are blessed! I marvel at how those who often feel unloved and rejected, feel loved and accepted during this season!
Each family receives a variety of wrapped gifts that are “age-appropriate”. We were able to give away presents like basketballs, dolls, games, lego sets, art kits, books and countless other toys! The children all receive a few toys each, while the parents and teenagers are often blessed with gift cards and electronics.
This year was no different; everyone was stunned, was incredibly grateful and had a wonderful time. They kept saying “thank you”, over and over again!
Families who are experiencing homelessness, are often ignored and forgotten during the Christmas season. They are in a place they’d rather not be; they’d rather spend Christmas in their own apartment! They often do not expect anything, and are often racked with the guilt of having to live with their kids in a homeless shelter. Many are often wondering how they’ll even be able to purchase anything for their “shorties”.
Unfortunately, most families are expecting to be ignored and forgotten again. Yet, I’m happy to say, it is a very different reality here in Cornerstone…..
This season is remarkable. Not only are they blessed with all these gifts, but over several weeks, Churches and other organizations come to CCO and cook them amazing meals, take them to restaurants and volunteer much time and effort. These families certainly know they have been remembered. These families certainly know they have not been ignored and forgotten!
So, it is always a joy to be part of this and to surprise them. It is always a joy to see the unexpected delight and happiness form on their faces, knowing they have been remembered and loved!
….and isn’t this what Christmas is all about?
….isn’t this why the Christ-child came into the world, bringing a new Kingdom of Love and Hope? A Kingdom that elevates, saves and surprises those who are homeless, sick, marginalized, rejected, ignored and abandoned.
Surprising people in our dark world, with unexpected rays of love and light!
Surprising people, who think all is lost, with new gifts and new Hope!
Surprising people, who’ve been cast aside by this world, by remembering them and making sure they know they are loved and not forgotten!

CCO Men Celebrated at Holiday Dinner!

Men's Shelter Christmas Party blogger-image--1639520058
On Friday we had our annual Christmas party for the men who stay with us at Cornerstone. It was also attended by those who were once homeless and are now housed, and also by some of the homeless men who sleep outside in the neighborhood.
We had a great meal of bbq chicken, pork chops, mac’n’cheese, spaghetti, rolls, salad and cake. It was delicious and they all loved it.
Each man received a bag with a variety of gifts. We were able to give away presents like hoodies, hats, gloves, scarves, high quality dress-shirts and pants, peanuts, chocolates, flashlights, hygiene kits, gift cards and many other things.
Everyone who attended was incredibly grateful and had a wonderful time. They kept saying “thank you” over and over again!
Men who are experiencing homelessness, are often ignored and forgotten during the Christmas season. Many of these men do not expect anything. They, unfortunately, are expecting to be ignored and forgotten again.
So, it is always a joy to be part of this and to surprise them. It is always a joy to see the unexpected delight and happiness form on their faces, knowing they have been remembered and loved!
….and isn’t this what Christmas is all about?

….isn’t this why the Christ Child came into the world, bringing a new Kingdom of Love? A Kingdom that elevates, saves and surprises those who are sick, marginalized and abandoned?
Surprising people in our dark world, with unexpected rays of love and light!
Surprising people, who think all is lost, with new gifts and new hope!
Surprising people, who’ve been cast aside by this world, by remembering them and making sure they know they are loved and not forgotten!

AmazonSmile

AmazonSmileLogo

Cornerstone Community Outreach is a registered charity with AmazonSmile. AmazonSmile is a way you can financially support CCO, at no cost to you. Go to www.smile.amazon.com and be sure to choose CCO as your charity! Millions of Amazon items are eligible and 0.5% of your total cost goes to CCO, and there is no limit to how much Amazon will give.

Cornerstone’s link to share with friends is http://smile.amazon.com/ch/36-3670992 .

Happy Shopping!

Holiday Giving

Christmas

CCO staff, donors and volunteers work long and hard to make the holidays special for our shelter guests. That includes families with children and single men and women. Help us make the holidays bright! Monetary donations go a long way in filling the gaps in gift and goods donated to CCO.

Please consider making a donation today. Thank you!