June marked the 40th anniversary of Sarah’s Inn, the domestic violence support center that relocated from Oak Park to Forest Park in January. The milestone passed quietly, the COVID pandemic making a big celebration impossible.

The current health situation, however, has made executive director Carol Gall even more aware of the necessity of the work done at Sarah’s Inn.

“The health pandemic really highlighted the importance of our work,” Gall said in an interview July 22.

Despite being closed to in-person services, they’ve never stopped offering phone, online and financial support, and what they provide has been needed more than ever. Gall said that in the state of Illinois as a whole, there was over a 100 percent increase in the number of calls to domestic violence services during the pandemic. Sarah’s Inn saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in calls. The increase in domestic abuse during the pandemic, said Gall, has been well documented.

“It’s the silent pandemic,” Gall said. “Domestic violence rates are increasing worldwide. Staying home is necessary, but it has the unintended consequence of putting and keeping some people in unsafe homes.” Outlets individuals used to have, such as going to work or the store or visiting a friend, have been limited. “Many sufferers can’t even use the phone to call someone because they don’t have privacy at home,” said Gall.

As state guidelines have been loosening slightly, Sarah’s Inn has been examining safe ways to open its physical doors once more. Beginning in early August, the center will slowly reopen at its new location, following guidelines to keep everyone safe. They’re planning a phased return to the office, with team members working rotating hours. Later in the month, in-person services such as intake appointments and individual counseling will be available to clients.

For the time being, group sessions will still be held remotely. Gall said it was a “heavy lift to transition to remote,” to get everything set up and working well. Temporarily, to ensure COVID-19 related safety, the groups will continue to be held remotely.

Gall said she and other Sarah’s Inn staff learned a lot about how to run remote support groups, which have been helpful to clients over the past few months. But there’s something about having a physical space to come to that’s important to clients too.

“With trauma work, the in-person component is really important as part of the therapeutic and healing process,” said Gall. She pointed out that the physical space they’d created in their new location was purposely designed to be calming. “For some people, this is their time away from everyday life,” Gall said. “This is where they feel safe.”

In addition to providing one-on-one counseling and group sessions during the pandemic, Sarah’s Inn has also continued helping clients find housing and, when necessary, providing financial assistance to do so.

Shelters are an option, though to maintain safe distances the number of people allowed at one time has decreased. With a loss of jobs throughout the country, people in abusive situations who might normally have been able to move out and afford somewhere to go are stuck.

To help, Sarah’s Inn has a direct client assistance program, through which they can assist clients with housing, providing emergency financial support for individuals needing help with mortgage payments, utility assistance or groceries.

“There’s been huge food insecurity over the past four months,” said Gall.

The organization’s direct client assistance program allows Sarah’s Inn to provide monetary assistance to those who need it. Since the COVID pandemic began, Gall said they’ve provided around $75,000 in direct financial assistance to clients, and they rely heavily on the community to support these efforts.

As Sarah’s Inn enters its 40th year in operation, Gall said it’s a “unique and challenging time,” but they’ve had a successful campaign in their new space, albeit for the few months it was open before COVID shut it down.

“We’re on a solid trajectory for the next 40 years,” said Gall. “We’re poised to be here and be stable. The pandemic has just magnified the importance and necessity of our vital services.”

Gall said the organization is grateful to the community for so many years of support.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but we want to continue the growth and program expansion we’ve seen,” said Gall.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was started in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Gall said Sarah’s Inn welcomes the opportunity to hold their annual fundraiser virtually with a live-stream option, and if possible, will encourage supporters to host viewing parties in their homes. An outdoor mural is being planned, and Gall is looking forward to the opportunity to really showcase the renovated headquarters to the community.

People interested in donating to Sarah’s Inn can visit the website at https://sarahsinn.org/donate/ to see how to donate online and also view a list of the most-needed items, which includes:

  • Gift cards in denominations of $15 to $25 from stores that carry groceries, toiletries, and household items, such as Target, Walmart or Jewel. Gift cards allow families to get their basic needs met.
  • Non-perishable food items (canned food, boxes of cereal, snack bars, pasta, pasta sauce, juice boxes, rice, dried beans, fruit cups, other non-perishable food items, etc.)
  • Full sized dental hygiene items (toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash, etc.)
  • Full sized personal care & toiletry items (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, feminine care products, etc.)
  • Paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, tissue, etc.)
  • Pullups/wipes

The 24-crisis line is always available at 708-386-4225 (phone) and 708-792-3120 (text) for anyone suffering abuse. Family members or friends who are worried about someone in an abusive situation are invited to call or text these numbers too. The website at sarahsinn.org provides additional information.