How a seventh-grader's bar mitzvah project will help suburban homeless

Charlie Schwartz of Buffalo Grove and his friends had bags in their hands during a recent trip to Journeys: The Road Home in Palatine, but these were no trick-or-treat bags.

Nope, these enterprising seventh-graders from London Middle School in Wheeling were delivering care packages filled with necessities for colder weather, including warm socks, hand warmers, bottled water, toilet paper and snacks.

In all, Charlie had collected enough items to fill 100 care packages, and that number was deliberately planned.

"Since PADS serves approximately 60-100 people every night in the suburbs, we set our sights on making 100 care kits," Charlie says.

Turns out, he organized the project before his bar mitzvah, which took place Saturday at Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove. He also pledged to donate a portion of his gift money back to Journeys.

Officials with Journey> were thrilled with his generosity. They posted this photo of Charlie and his friends on their Facebook page and on LinkedIn.

"A resounding congrats and Mazel tov to Charlie who is about to celebrate his bar mitzvah," they posted on Facebook. "We are so honored to be chosen as the beneficiary of his mitzvah project."

Journeys provides shelter, social services and housing to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, in 37 communities in the North and Northwest suburbs. Its headquarters in Palatine coordinates its PADS shelter program, offers supportive services as well as the Pathways Housing Readiness program.

Demand for all these services are growing, officials say. They point to last winter, when demand for their PADS shelters outpaced available space in their network of emergency shelters. Officials responded by implementing a lottery system for entry into the shelters for the first time in their 29-year history.

Charlie explained that his commitment to helping the homeless came from his grandfather, Bob Rosenblum. He passed away in 2015 but left a legacy of service to all of his extended family to give back to people in the community.

On the first anniversary of his passing, family members gathered at Feed My Starving Children to work together toward feeding children in Third World Countries, before last year settling on creating care packages for the homeless, right here in the Northwest suburbs.

"The response was overwhelming from our family and friends, and we created more than 200 care kits," says Susie Schwartz, Charlie's mother. "When we finished, Charlie was adamant about this being his mitzvah project, to carry on the legacy created by his grandfather."

Charlie explains that he and his family generated awareness through Facebook and posted an Amazon wish list of preferred items.

"I got to see firsthand what a caring network of family and friends we have," Charlie says. "Over the last two months, every day I'd come home from school and every day there'd be more Amazon boxes in our living room filled with supplies for the homeless."

Suzanne Ploger, a spokesperson for Journeys, said the kits came at a good time. Earlier this month, they drew 90 clients for lunch. Usually, Ploger said, they see numbers like that during the colder months of January and February.

Susie Schwartz credits not only family members but faith leaders at Congregation Beth Am for encouraging this service aspect to bar mitzvah celebrations.

"It's so important to teach this next generation," Schwartz says, "about kindness and giving back."

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