Neighbors in Need: WINGS helps domestic violence survivors soar
With resale shops and more, WINGS supports those fleeing domestic violence
People escaping domestic violence don't typically stop to collect their belongings or pack a suitcase. Often, they leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
That's where WINGS comes in. The Palatine-based organization provides housing, counseling and other services for domestic violence survivors.
"When you're fleeing, you're fleeing. ... You have to start your whole life over again," said WINGS President and CEO Rebecca Darr.
WINGS helps survivors by not only finding them shelter but also by ensuring they have clothes, linens, housewares and other necessities.
On average, WINGS houses between 350 and 400 people a night. That includes long-term housing as well as safe houses for those requiring emergency shelter.
Located in Northwest suburban Cook County, Lake County and Chicago, the emergency shelters have 85 beds. For long-term housing, WINGS rents apartments and subleases them to survivors who reside there for two to three years while they get back on their feet, she said.
But no matter how many beds they have, Darr says it's never enough to accommodate the need of WINGS clients, 95% of whom are women. Most are between 25 and 35 years old, with young children under 5, Darr said.
WINGS is one of five recipients of a grant from the Neighbors in Need campaign, a Daily Herald/McCormick Foundation partnership that helps fund agencies that raise awareness and address hunger, homelessness and health care disparities in the suburbs.
The McCormick Foundation matches donations to the Daily Herald's Neighbors in Need fund at 50 cents on the dollar. To donate, visit dailyherald.com/neighbors.
WINGS was established in 1985 by members of St. Marceline Catholic Church in Schaumburg who wanted to address homelessness in the Northwest suburbs. Recognizing that many suburban homeless women and children were fleeing abusers, organizers shifted their focus to domestic violence survivors.
In 1990, the group established its first survivors residence in Des Plaines. Since then, the organization has opened two safe houses, as well as homes and apartments in Chicago, Skokie, Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, Palatine and Barrington.
The first WINGS resale shop opened in Palatine in 2000. A fire destroyed the facility 10 years later, but others subsequently opened in Niles, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights (where the Palatine resale shop relocated) and Chicago. Donations make up the inventory, which includes clothing, furniture, housewares, office supplies, toys, games and other items. For information, see wingsprogram.com/wings-resale-shops.
"I buy all my clothes there," said Darr, who purchased her gown for the Purple Tie Ball, WINGS' annual fundraiser, at one of the resale shops.
"Why would I go to a retail store and pay full price when I can support WINGS?"
She recalled attending a black tie event where a photographer inquired about the designer of her black, beaded dress. "WINGS Resale," replied Darr, who purchased the dress for $25.
Proceeds from sales fund WINGS programs, which appeals to regulars like Vanessa Williams of Chicago, who doesn't mind spending money for a good cause.
"They always have nice things here," she said. "They have a variety of everything and good quality."
Customer Gloria DeGraff agrees. "It's a worthy cause and you get great deals," the Chicago resident said. "You never know what you're going to see."
Nancy Hess, manager of the Arlington Heights resale shop, says the store could not run without the volunteers who help sort donations, price and arrange merchandise, and ring up sales.
"They do it all," Hess said. "If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I'd do."
Volunteers range from young people to seniors, Hess said, and each one brings expertise. Some of the older volunteers know about collectibles and vintage items, she said. Millennials know about pop culture. Hess relies on their knowledge and experience to decide which items make it to the sales floor, which are sent to another store or to antique dealers, and which are sent to a third-party recycler.
"Nothing goes to waste," she said.
Bargain hunters aren't WINGS' only customers.
"People don't realize that's how we clothe our families," Darr said. "(Clients) come with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We get them everything."
Clients receive gift cards with which they purchase items they need, including furnishings for their long-term housing. They can take the items with them when they find homes of their own.
For domestic abuse survivors, the long-term housing is key. Two to three months in a safe house is not enough time to get a job and restart one's life, Darr said. Offering an additional couple of years of support, with "those loving arms around you," is the game-changer, she said.
"They have the ability to move forward, and they do."
WINGS' 24-hour domestic violence hotline is (847) 221-5680. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233.