Forest Park is home to a sizable number of students from Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine. Thanks to a nonprofit organization called Better Days Community Outreach Services, these students are becoming even more closely connected to our community.

Students from Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine use Forest Park as a staging ground for food they collect for Better Days, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless. | Photo provided

Better Days is an organization dedicated to helping the homeless. It partners with Loyola students and uses Forest Park as a staging area for preparing and distributing food to the less fortunate. It started, though, with students being the recipients.

The founder, Pastor Joyce Smith, works with medical students in her capacity as Loyola’s assimilation education coordinator. In December 2020, she talked with a student named Jessica Simpson about distributing gift cards to students, who are often pressed for time and money when it comes to preparing meals. They were grateful for the cards.

Jessica, though, didn’t want to be only on the receiving end. She suggested that Pastor Joyce use her home on the 1400 Block of Elgin as a site for food preparation and pick-up. Jessica organized schedules for 70 students to pick up free groceries and help on homeless care days.

They set up folding tables in the snow, where the students could safely collect their groceries. They used these same tables to put together care packages for the homeless. The packages include fresh produce donated by Imperfect Foods, sandwiches prepared by the students and health supplies like hand sanitizer and masks.

Students from Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine use Forest Park as a staging ground for food they collect for Better Days, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless. | Photo provided

Jessica has always had a heart for the homeless. As a young girl, she would cry at the sight of a homeless person. She still gets emotional. It makes her feel good to prepare PB&J and cold-cut sandwiches and distribute them to the needy. Students pick up their groceries on the third Saturday of each month and help the homeless on the fourth Saturday.

When Jessica became too busy to organize the operation, her classmate, Aaron Perlow, stepped up. He moved the operation to his home on the 7600 block of Monroe. Aaron considers it a privilege to help the homeless. He sees an extreme need for food among the homeless in the western suburbs. He is the Better Days point man for locating the homeless.

Aaron scours areas in Forest Park and Oak Park where the homeless congregate. This includes the CTA stations and expressway entrance ramps. Local police officers are also helpful in directing him to the homeless. When Aaron approaches, they can be apprehensive at first. They are grateful, though, for the food and even more thankful for the conversation.

In a recent talk with a homeless man, Aaron learned he was trying to return to his native Florida. Aaron plans to purchase the bus ticket he needs. As the weather warms, it’s tougher to locate the homeless. So on April 24, the students made sandwiches and brought them to a “tent city” at Chicago and Sacramento.

Pastor Joyce was with them to prepare the grocery bags and pass them out. Prior to founding Better Days in 2015, she was a legal assistant at Loop law firms. After obtaining her master’s degree in Human Services, she switched to the medical field. She is now in her eighth year at Loyola.

Pastor Joyce operates Better Days out of her home in Calumet City. She is also an assistant pastor at New Beginning Worship Center in Thornton.

To support Pastor Joyce in her ministry, you can make a PayPal donation at If you would like to help pack grocery bags and distribute them to the homeless, you can email Pastor Joyce at The students will supply the folding tables.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.