Until just a few months ago, Michelle was worried she wouldn’t find steady work to provide for her three children. She had already been evicted from her apartment and was living in a crowded house of relatives, fretting over the very real possibility of homelessness.

For the 30-year-old Michelle and her children, the future was bleak until she invoked the services of a local office aimed at helping the homeless and those at risk of finding themselves on the street.

She asked that only her first name be used for this story.

“It’s been hard for us at times, trying to find clothes, a place to live, and food,” Michelle said. “I wanted to provide like I am supposed to as a parent, but circumstances wouldn’t allow that. But, I saw that there are so many people out there that can help.”

Michelle’s future began to brighten when she visited West Suburban PADS, and found the means to help turn things around. With Thanksgiving just around the corner and the holiday season nearly upon us, PADS Director Lynda Schueler is hopeful that stories such as Michelle’s will resonate with community members who can help a family get back on its feet.

Schueler’s office is one of several organizations and businesses in Forest Park offering residents a chance to lend a hand in creating a memorable holiday season for those in need.

“This can be a lonely time for families and individuals,” Schueler said. “Some of the folks in our program have broken ties with their family, and we’ve then become their family. They look to us to fill those needs.”

West Suburban PADS offers several ways to help mend those ties during the holiday season. Donors can sponsor a family for Christmas and help purchase gifts. Volunteers can deliver backpacks and winter clothes in preparation for the unforgiving season.

The Howard Mohr Community Center will also be participating in a holiday-oriented food program as an extension of its ongoing food pantry. The center creates Thanksgiving holiday food baskets to deliver to Forest Park families that are in need.

“This is to help those in a bind or in a low-income situation,” Terry Meffley of the community Center said. “These baskets give them a traditional holiday dinner.”

The Thanksgiving food baskets, which consist of traditional Thanksgiving food, are typically given out to 100 Forest Park residents on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; this year, they will be delivered on Nov. 22.

While community service organizations ask the public to make an effort to help the less fortunate, shoppers this holiday season can do their part with the simple swipe of a credit card.

Lisa Tobias, owner of the new women’s clothing store 75eleven on Madison Street, will donate 10 percent of her sales from the grand opening on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Known as “Black Friday,” the day marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season as retailers expect to cash in on gift sales.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas are times for celebration and for bringing families together,” Tobias said. “And, unfortunately, there are people out there without that.”

Tobias said she specifically chose an expectedly busy shopping day in order to raise more money for the Salvation Army.

“If you are going to donate, then give with a giving heart, not with expectations of receiving something later,” Tobias said.

Michelle said it’s that type of selflessness that can really make a difference in people’s lives. Four months after visiting PADS, Michelle and her three children are living in their own home, and Michelle works full-time. She is also taking classes at a local college.

“Be an instrument,” Michelle said. “Let people know that you are willing to help and without judgment. You coming in and being a willing ear and a willing heart could save lives.”

Places to donate

Howard Mohr Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd.

Thanksgiving Food Basket: Forest Park Residents can donate Thanksgiving food items, such as turkeys, cranberries, etc., and/or volunteer to help drive and deliver the Thanksgiving Day food baskets on Wednesday, Nov. 22. The center also provides a Christmas food basket in December. Contact Beverly Thompson at the community center for more details at (708) 771-7737.

West Suburban PADS, 816 Marengo Ave.

Transitional Housing Program Gift Donations: Sponsor families during the holiday season by providing gifts for families of the Transitional Housing Program. Gifts need to be wrapped by Dec. 9. Contact Susie Bohun at (708) 488-1724 for more details and for a family's wish-list.

Winter-related Donations: Purchase and donate backpacks, socks, hats, gloves, and other winter-related items for PADS to distribute to shelter members. Contact Leticia Medina at (708) 488-1724 for more information.

7 Eleven, 7511 Madison St.

On Friday, Nov. 24 10 percent of sales will be donated to the Salvation Army. 75eleven is located on Madison St. in Forest Park and can reached at (708) 771-7511.