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updated: 9/19/2012 5:15 PM

West Chicago PADS shelter seeking volunteers

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A homeless shelter operated in a West Chicago church is looking for volunteers.

The shelter at the First United Methodist Church is part of the DuPage PADS, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter, network of 28 overnight housing sites.

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Organizers will hold an orientation session for those interested in volunteering at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the church, 643 E. Washington St. The site serves homeless individuals and families every Thursday night from October to May.

PADS operates three shelters each night from October to April in DuPage County, with a maximum of 140 available beds.

"The best thing volunteers can give to our guests is their time and their encouragement," said Brian Hendricks, a volunteer coordinator at the church shelter. "These are people who are normally shunned by society. They are normally pushed away and PADS is a place where they can come and be welcomed and treated as a friend."

The West Chicago church is one of the longest-standing sites in the PADS network.

"It's a tremendous commitment that that congregation has had to us over the years," PADS Executive Director Carol Simler said. "We're very thankful for that and blessed that they continue to open their doors to people in need of hope, food and shelter for the night."

More than 4,000 volunteers are critical to PADS services, Simler said, at a time when the Wheaton-based nonprofit organization is seeing a significant jump in the number of families and children served. Just last year, PADS served 170 children.

In West Chicago, volunteers are needed for four shifts: 6:30 to 9 p.m., 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., 1 to 5 a.m. and 5 to 7:30 a.m.

The first shift is responsible for converting the church sanctuary into a shelter and serving dinner to guests. The second involves cleaning up after dinner, making lunches and washing laundry. The third, or the "owl shift," requires volunteers to monitor guests' safety. The final shift includes serving breakfast and preparing the site for its use as a sanctuary.

Last year, the church played host to an average of 35 people a night, Hendricks said.

Organizers accept monetary donations, as well as donations of detergent, coffee and clothing such as coats and jeans.

"What we need more than anything are volunteers," Hendricks said. "That's our greatest need. We've got an aging volunteer population, and it's getting harder with each passing year now."

Hendricks has volunteered at the site for the past 25 years. What keeps him committed to the shelter?

Stories like the one from a Christmas Eve in the 1990s, when volunteers gave coats to a homeless family, Hendricks said.

"On Christmas morning, one of the little girls got up and ran to the coat rack and hugged her coat," Hendricks said. "She was so excited. That was like the best gift she had ever gotten."

Hendricks summed up his efforts another way.

"I don't think there's anything you can do that's better than helping another person who needs your help," he said.

For details, call (630) 333-0640 or (630) 231-7532.

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