It wasn't the free clothes or lunch or her husband's new haircut that meant the most to Jackie when she came to Love Elgin Day last September; it was the prayer of a 12-year-old volunteer, she says, that really brought her hope.
Love Elgin Day returns Saturday with more of the same -- free groceries, clothing, medical and legal services, haircuts, massages, family portraits, bicycle repair, car services and other benefits, along with opportunities to hear about the love of God and receive personal prayer. Resource information from a variety of community organizations also will be provided, and lunch is free, too.
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Sponsored by 30 local churches with the assistance of businesses, local government and social service agencies, the outreach is designed to bless under-resourced families and individuals from Elgin.
This will be the fifth time for the biannual event, which draws an average of 1,500 to 2,000 guests and relies on about 250 volunteers. Love Elgin Day is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. downtown at five churches and one park within walking distance of each other.
With music, popcorn and face painting, the event takes on a festive tone, particularly on Division Street, which will be closed to traffic between Center and Spring streets. Police, fire and public works vehicles will be available to view up close, and musical performances and dancers will be scheduled throughout the day at Carleton Rogers Park.
Enough goes on at Love Elgin Day that when Jackie saw a promotional flier last fall at the Community Crisis Center, she thought it would be a refreshing change of pace for Jylisa, her 11-year-old daughter. The two had only been in town a couple of weeks, having left Chicago to start over near where Jackie's then-estranged husband was living at a halfway house.
"We had nothing," Jackie said. "We only came with the clothes on our back. At Love Elgin Day, we were blessed to be able to get a few things from the clothing donations, and we had lunch together as a family.
"My daughter got her face painted; she was able to be a kid for those few hours," she said. "My husband got his hair cut, and the barber did a really good job."
Those things were nice, she said, but the best part was when a bold young girl and two other volunteers asked if they could pray for them.
"She spoke into my life and told me that God loved me and told me things that I needed to hear at the time," Jackie said. "That was the most meaningful thing. It was a nice welcome to Elgin."
Since that day, the family has found an apartment and is rebuilding their life together. They've also found a church home as regular attendees at one of the Love Elgin Day churches -- the same where the three who had prayed for them attend. Slowly, they're getting back on their feet.
"Coming from nothing, God has definitely blessed us," Jackie said. "He's continuing to bless us. We didn't know how it was going to happen, we didn't know when it was going to happen; we just knew that we needed it to happen. Our faith is much stronger now."
Love Elgin Day begins with registration in front of Vineyard Church, 220 Division St., and continues at Iglesia Carismática Puerta de Sion, Family Life Church, First Congregational Church and First United Methodist Church. All are within a few blocks of each other, and volunteers will be ready to help guests carry food and clothing to their cars.
Weather permitting, some activities will be set up outdoors, but rain or shine, the event will take place as scheduled. All distributions will be made on a first-come-first-served basis.
Love Elgin Day is held on the last Saturday of April and last Saturday of September every year. Pastor Jeorge Holmes, an Elgin native, is the lead coordinator and founder.
For more information, visit LoveElginDay.org.