Forest Park Baptist Church, 133 Harlem Ave., is officially a Housing Forward shelter site for homeless people in the community, hosting their first night on Jan. 20.
“We had 18 guests our first night,” said Kevin Wood, an elder and deacon of Missions and Outreach at the church. “Seven of them were kids. The most impactful thing for me was seeing children in our community who are homeless.”
As a secondary site, Forest Park Baptist is set up to accommodate overflow from the primary site for that evening, with a focus on providing shelter for families. Every Monday night, they open their site to people needing a place to eat and sleep.
Wood was the force behind establishing a Housing Forward site at his church. He was inspired, he said, by an October 2018 article by Tom Holmes in the Forest Park Review, which focused on an increase in homelessness and a lack of shelters, particularly in Proviso Township.
Wood said he was struck by the fact that during the winter months, local shelters had to turn people away because there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate everyone and not enough sites available. At that time, Proviso Township had only one site, St. John Lutheran Church in Forest Park.
Beginning in Jan. 2019, Wood organized Forest Park Baptist Church as a support congregation, providing dinner once a month to another church that hosted guests overnight. But he wanted to do more, and last fall, he started actively trying to become a host site.
“It’s a big undertaking,” said Wood. Being a host site means opening your doors to overnight guests once a week, serving dinner and breakfast, and giving people a sack lunch to take with them when they leave. He added that it would be impossible without volunteers, who have really stepped up to make it work.
“We have about 50 active members in our congregation,” said Wood. “And out of them, over 20 became involved in Housing Forward at our church.” Judson Baptist and First Baptist of Oak Park each provide dinner at Forest Park Baptist Church once a month. And, he said, he put a message out on Mom Mail looking for volunteers, which brought three families and a group from Holmes School who provide the bagged lunches.
“It’s really a collaborative effort between the volunteers from our church, other churches, and people from the community,” said Wood. “We can’t do it ourselves, but we can do it with the help of others.”
Wood is still looking for volunteers, particularly for the overnight shifts as monitors and early Tuesday morning staff. Those interested in volunteering can reach Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s a way to show the love of Jesus Christ in a tangible way,” said Wood. “We’re meeting a real need.”
On the bulletin board in the social hall of the church is the article written by Tom Holmes. Nearby are Bible quotes, one which Wood said is particularly relevant to this mission. He pointed out a line from the gospel of Matthew, in the parable of the Sheep and Goats: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”