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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Connections for the Homeless’ annual winter gear distribution helps individuals gear up for the cold

Photo courtesy of Eric Ruder
Connections for the Homeless’ Winter Warmth event provided participants ample winter gear, including heavy winter coats and snow boots.

Lake Street Church was buzzing with volunteers Saturday at its annual Winter Warmth event, hosted by Connections for the Homeless.

Volunteers distributed coats, boots and other necessities for the frigid Illinois weather to community members in need.

Every year, Winter Warmth distributes winter gear to anyone who needs it, without having to turn away recipients, which Connections’ Chief Executive Officer Betty Bogg said is usually the hardest part of the organization’s work. Connections anticipated approximately 500 participants to attend.

“There is a perspective of scarcity, and we often have to tell people we can’t give them what they need right now,” Bogg said. “And it just feels really good to not make people do anything and we can just give them what they need.”

Supplies were donated by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, a Chicago-based organization that supports social justice efforts. According to Eric Ruder, Connections’ director of communications, the foundation contributed approximately 2,000 winter coats.

Connections partnered with Aetna to provide flu and COVID-19 vaccinations during the event. Participants were also offered pre-packaged bags of produce.

Winter Warmth is one of the larger events that Connections runs during the year. The organization mobilized approximately 90 volunteers to bring the event together. Bogg said planning the event takes at least six months.

Felicia Brown, In-Kind Program and volunteer manager of Connections said the scale of the event requires rallying more volunteers than usual. Connections went beyond its usual volunteer base and welcomed individuals who had not attended the organization’s volunteer training sessions. 

Brown said the organization aims to educate all volunteers about their role at the event.  

“I give a little history on Connections and how long we’ve been in business,” Brown said. “I talk about what we’re currently doing, and then they get an assignment for their roles and responsibilities for how they’re going to help today.” 

Connections’ history stretches back to 1984. The organization was started in response to social services cuts under President Ronald Reagan’s administration that led to a rise in housing insecurity, according to Ruder.

Connections’ shelter was previously located in the basement of the Lake Street Church. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the shelter was forced to shut down as a safety measure. During the pandemic, the organization sheltered people in three hotels and is now in the process of using county funds to purchase the Margarita Inn, a former hotel, to function as its permanent shelter. 

The pandemic also shifted how Winter Warmth is run. Bogg said the event used to revolve around a Thanksgiving meal, which they have not hosted since 2020.

Despite Winter Warmth’s recent changes, Connections tries to foster a sense of joy for its participants, Bogg said. 

Black Women of Evanston Founder Annette Jean-Jacques mobilized many volunteers for the event. She said her favorite part was “watching the shoppers coming in and picking out what they want.”

“They seem to be happy and satisfied getting the personal attention as they are getting to pick out their items,” Jean-Jacques said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @SarahSerota

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