Soup kitchen, shelters provide respite
CHAMPAIGN — After spending Sunday night sleeping on the floor of a friend's one-bedroom apartment, Kevin Love on Monday morning slipped on his boots, gloves and knit hat, and headed into Campustown.
It was 15 degrees below zero.
And no buses were running.
"I'm dressed for it, and I know how to use my resources," Love said.
From Church and Prairie Streets, he walked about six blocks to the Illinois Terminal in downtown, where he stopped to warm up. He trudged another six blocks to County Market on Springfield Avenue, where he warmed up again. Then it was on to Campustown to check a few places where the area's homeless usually camp out.
He knew which places to check because a year ago he was among them.
In the hallway of one apartment building near the laundry room, Love noticed a pile of blankets. He asked the person underneath what he needed: more blankets, socks, food?
On the coldest day of the year, Champaign's homeless and working poor sought shelter, in soup kitchens and emergency shelters.
By noon Monday, Love had walked back to the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen at White and Randolph streets in Champaign, where volunteers were serving a four-course hot meal to those who needed it.
"It's so bitter cold," said Bob Goss, president of the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, which is housed at the New Covenant Fellowship Hall. There was no way they wouldn't open the soup kitchen on Monday, he said.
After the meal of baked potatoes, beef sandwiches and salad, Love and Timothy Burnett, who sometimes lives with his grandfather in Champaign, planned to walk back into Campustown with extra sandwiches they received from the soup kitchen.
Burnett, who also has been without a home, spent the night at Presence Covenant Medical Center visiting his godmother. There he met a homeless man; Burnett planned to return to the hospital later Monday with food for the man.
While Love and Burnett ate their meal, volunteers came by with extra socks, scarves, long underwear.
"Anyone can say, 'It's cold today. I'll help tomorrow,'" Love said. "The ones who made it out in adverse conditions like today, they're God's soldiers. He chose us."
Typically, the organization feeds about 200 to 250 people daily from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On Monday, they served about 40. Because bus service did not resume until noon Monday, volunteers said many of the diners probably didn't come because they had no way of getting there or it was just too cold to venture outside and walk there.
"I didn't think it was going to be open. I was hoping it would be open," said "Big Will" Winston, who was grateful for the hot meal and conversation.
Meals are served in the hall Monday through Friday and delivered via a van set up in a parking lot near the church on Saturdays and near Habitat for Humanity in Champaign on Sundays. This past Sunday, while the snow was blowing but before the subzero temperatures kicked in, Kathy and Dave Atchley of Champaign and Dave and Chris Seyler of Urbana parked the van, turned on the generator and set up a table outside their usual spot by Habitat for Humanity. They served hot coffee and sandwiches to about 20 people in the area.
"Each and every one was grateful we were there," Kathy Atchley said. They sent home extra sandwiches with each one, anticipating many of them would not be venturing out on Monday.
"Unfortunately we are not an emergency shelter like the Salvation Army and we have had to turn some individuals down," said Tommy Nguyen, case manager with the TIMES Center in Champaign.
The TIMES Center offers transitional housing to men, where there's room for up to 50 men to stay on cots and up to 20 who can stay in dormitory-type lodging. Those in need of emergency housing for a night or two are referred to the Salvation Army, Nguyen said.
Until recently, men staying at the TIMES Center had to leave the building in the morning and were allowed to return at 5 p.m., with the goal of encouraging them to work or find work. Because of an increase in staffing, the center now allows the men to stay in the building during the day.