One night of sleeping outside in freezing temperatures motivated Chelsea Chandler to take action and help the homeless. Her efforts resulted in the donation of nearly 700 items.
Chandler, 20, is a sophomore studying Special Education at Aurora University (AU). Last October, Chandler joined fellow AU students and staff in Sleep Out on the Quad to raise awareness for homelessness.
Chandler said that more than 100 students participated in the Sleep Out, with a low temperature that night of 36 degrees. The night included talks led by homeless individuals and a simulated experience of begging for food.
“The next day I had a heavy heart and so much compassion. I kept thinking that I really wanted to help,” Chandler recalled.
Chandler said her parents and professors encouraged her to “go for it and see what I could accomplish.”
So she did.
Chandler is a teacher with Oswegoland Park District’s Kid’s Connection. Chandler decided to get the kids involved and placed a collection bin at each site. She also networked through friends and family. One month of collecting items netted her approximately 700 items, which she donated to Hesed House at the end of December. Hesed House, located in Aurora, is a Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center which serves nearly 1,000 individuals each year.
Chandler recalled taking her donation to Hesed House.
“It was an amazing feeling…it still brings tears to my eyes. It feels wonderful to help people who don’t have it as good as you,” she said.
The donated items included many hygiene items, clothing and outerwear.
Hesed House Executive Director Ryan Dowd explained the value to a homeless person of the small items that Chandler collected for donation.
“When people are evicted, they never think to bring their toothbrush,” said Dowd. “It’s the little things that determine whether they can be dignified in homelessness or not.”
“Imagine you own only one or two pairs of socks and you are constantly walking through slush and you have no dry socks to wear. That is potentially dangerous,” Dowd described.
“One-third of Hesed House’s resources are donated stuff, not monetary donations. We would cease to function without donations. People think it’s not a big deal, but it means we can spend the money on mental health counselors or job training,” Dowd said.
Chandler said she isn’t finished.
“I’m trying to organize other things. I want this to be an ongoing thing with helping Hesed House. The point is to end homelessness and that’s not going to happen by donating 700 items one time,” she said.
Chandler credits her mom for teaching her to live by Gandhi’s words: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ and her parents for raising her to put others before herself.
Chandler said the various clubs offered at Oswego High School gave her a better understanding of community service. She was involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Feed My Starving Children; and other local, community stuff, she said.
“I am not some amazing person,” Chandler insisted. “You can be just like me. I want people to know that they can help too.”
In March, Chandler will speak at AU about her community service with Hesed House in a program titled, Serve. Lead. Believe.
TELL US: Do you know someone from the Oswego/Montgomery area who has made a difference, has an interesting hobby or a story to tell? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.