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updated: 1/7/2014 12:25 AM

Northwest suburban homeless organization seeks volunteers

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From someone with a strong back who can hoist bags of laundry and deliver them to be cleaned, to people to help raise funds, to people to collect or enter data, to anyone who can staff weekly shelters or provide food to them, Journeys/The Road Home needs all kinds of volunteers.

"For the first time in a long time, we are out really actively recruiting volunteers that are the heart of our operation," said Ron Freeman, president of the group that helps homeless people in the Northwest suburbs.

With the extreme cold highlighting the importance of the organization's work, Freeman praised the volunteers the agency already has Monday even while he said more are needed.

More than 2,500 people dig in at 18 rotating emergency shelters in religious buildings around the suburbs and at the Hope Center in Palatine. And many area institutions help, too, such as hospitals that wash that laundry, including sheets, pillows and blankets, not to mention towels from the showers at Hope Center. The bill for that alone would be $100,000 a year, Freeman said.

The organization provides many services besides the emergency shelters, including health care and access to job hunting needs, he said.

The volunteer problem is twofold. Dedicated people who have given decades to the organization are aging. And society has changed. Retirement might come later, and couples work two or more jobs, leaving little time for volunteering, said Pat Harrington, shelter director.

Anyone interested in volunteering can attend orientation sessions that last less than two hours, then indicate what type of jobs they would like.

The current economic climate is another challenge as it means that financial donations are down while the need increases, Freeman said.

"When I joined the board five years ago we had 400 to 450 clients," Freeman said. "Today there are more than 1,300."

Among the most pressing needs at the moment are people interested in dropping off laundry and people willing to staff a center from 3 to 7 a.m. That's a hard shift to fill.

While Paul Brask, co-site director when St. Mark Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect hosts a shelter, envisions college students with late classes or a group of soccer moms handling his site's laundry on Tuesday mornings, Harrington dreams of a singles social group that would adopt the early morning shift at a site.

"Each one would only have to do it a few times a year, and if they're in their 20s or 30s they could do the shift and not have to stay in bed a week to recover," she sighed.

Two-hour orientation sessions are all at the Hope Center, 1140 East Northwest Hwy., Palatine. They start at the following times: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 8; 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18; 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6; 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15; and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25.

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