PADS praises volunteers at dinner

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Rae Kalin makes a mean poached salmon. Basil pesto pasta on the side, zucchini and tomato sautéed with garlic, tossed salad, buttered rolls, and peach pie a la mode for dessert.

Even better, she has no problem whipping up the meal for 60 people or more.

Kalin is a volunteer for West Suburban PADS, a network of homeless shelters in Oak Park, Forest Park, and near western suburbs. Her unofficial duty is to man the kitchen at dinner. The poached salmon is an example of one of her featured meals.

"I've been a cook for PADS for about five years, maybe longer," she said. "My belief is to give my guests — and that's what they are — any dinner I would eat for myself at home."

The guests she refers to are the local homeless, those struggling to find a warm refuge during the coldest months of the year. The PADS emergency shelter program operates mid-September through mid-May, when the cold arrives and the streets of Chicago's suburbs become unbearable as night settles in.

"During the regular season, we have 40 to 70 people every night," said Nancy Ford, director of development and communication for PADS. In order to serve numbers that high, the program relies on more than 1,000 volunteers.

Last Wednesday night, several hundred of those dedicated volunteers gathered at the Nineteenth Century Club for the annual volunteer appreciation event to enjoy dinner and drinks, donated by some two dozen area restaurants and retailers.

"It's been done for a number of years, but it hasn't been done on this scale," said Sally Prescott, one of the event organizers and a 19-year veteran volunteer. Before this year, the parties were thrown in the basement of a shelter church.

"I think they're really excited about it," said shelter manager Emily Aker, who also helped coordinate the event. Aker said she was thrilled to work with a fellow nonprofit — the Nineteenth Century Club — to hold the festive event. "It's just incredible. [PADS is] a grassroots organization for sure, and this event is reflective of that as well," she said.

"After I'd done it for a while, I thought, why haven't I done this sooner?" said Nancy Smiley, a volunteer for roughly five years. Smiley also prepares food and basks in the grateful responses she reads in the faces of shelter visitors. "You're doing it for somebody else and it just gives you this great feeling," she said.

"You think, these guys are down on their luck, and they have reason to be bitter and angry," said David Radford, a volunteer for more than a decade. But he finds them to be gracious and appreciative.

"Initially it was a way for me to get out of the house and do some service without my children and actually speak to other adults," said Prescott, who has been a volunteer since the emergency shelter program began in 1992. "Then subsequently it was a great way to introduce my children to volunteering spirit and how important volunteering is and giving back to our community."

Laura Kliewer, president of the PADS board of directors, began as a volunteer with her church, waking up for the third shift at the break of day. She loved it so much that she decided to join the board to become more involved. She said the event was a great way to give volunteers the recognition they deserve for devoting hundreds of thousands of hours to service each year.

"This has been a dream of mine for a long time, to do something like this," said Prescott. "The volunteers here [are] so awesome in their giving spirit."

Reader Comments

4 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Surprised from Oak Park  

Posted: May 23rd, 2011 11:37 PM

Wonderful video filled with great and inspiring stories. I'm mostly surprised to learn that we have a homeless issue inside Oak Park...my perception (based on limited previous experience with the program) was that homeless people would come to Oak Park for PADS from the city, and return on the EL afterwards. Perhaps that has changed with the economy. I guess that I will have to explore further.

Donna from River Forest  

Posted: May 19th, 2011 8:12 PM

This video was inspiring. I especially loved the idea that this was something families could do together. I was amazed at the long years of service so many of the speakers have served. And the teen who told of giving her own Christmas presents to those who had none--awesome.

(former) Marge Steffen (Ampe) from Honesdale PA  

Posted: May 19th, 2011 4:36 PM

As a former Oak Park Resident , I am delighted to see this tribute to the many volunteers who have made PADS a success for so many years. In the current place I live, we finally have begun a homeless shelter. NIMY is very present here as well as ignorance about the presence of homeless in our county seat. We finally began a shelter last winter. So far, it's only open if the temperature is projected to be below ZERO. We have far to go to equal oak park PADS record. Congratulations to all.

Doug Deuchler from Oak Park  

Posted: May 19th, 2011 4:10 PM

Listening to these comments from PADS volunteers, some of whom have been involved for a number of years, makes me especially proud to be part of such a community. I need to become a part of their outreach or program.

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