Volunteerism at Bike Winter

Julie Hochstader, co-chair of Bike Winter Chicago, recounts her experience serving meals to the homeless on the coldest night of winter as a volunteer for Night Ministry.

 

 

My co-chair, Lowell,  and I both agree that volunteer outreach is an important aspect of the Bike Winter organization.  This Fall, our group joined WTTW in a pledge drive.  Last month, we organized a group of cyclists to volunteer with Night Ministry, a non-profit outreach organization that helps provide housing, health care, and social services to homeless youth in Chicago.

The nights that our group volunteered to work on the streets, we Chicagoans experienced a serious deep freeze. That seemed less of a concern to us because as winter cyclists we are pretty well-equipped to be outside in extreme temperatures.  Even though the thermometer fell well below zero and the wind chill was extremely biting, that didn't stop any of us from standing on the streets in service of Night Ministry.  Another group, Cover Them With Love, was out there with us doing altruistic deeds, too. This group is a new non-profit that provides blankets to the homeless.

 


Our group spent two evenings working with Night Ministry. The first night, we rode our bikes to Costco to shop for the food for our mission. We were lucky enough to have a cargo bike to carry the load. Doug’s rig was the perfect vehicle for big box store shopping and we comfortably carted our groceries to Paul’s place where we prepared the food. We stayed up into the wee hours and assembled about a hundred individual meals.



The next afternoon, we brought the provisions to the Night Ministry office in East Lakeview.  There we met Rabbi Menachem and Joy who devote themselves to helping those less fortunate. They gave us a debriefing and talked  about what to expect out there on the street. Because this non-profit also tends to focus on youth in times of crisis, the Rabbi told us to expect to see more than a few teens and young adults out on the streets. Night Ministry helps whoever is in need. If someone comes to the table and needs food, they get food. We gave food to a diverse range of people that night.

The Night Ministry’s primary mission is social outreach. It seems fitting that our volunteer group met on the Chainlink, a social networking site for cyclists. What's more, volunteers who work with Night Ministry are spiritually diverse. Religious groups who volunteer are asked not to proselytize as this group is a secular organization. We got a good chuckle when the rabbi told us we were free to proselytize all we wanted to about Bike Winter and riding bikes!

Late in the evening, we trekked a few blocks from the office and set up our make-shift soup kitchen. Soon after we got everything ready, people started to line-up for a meal.  We served ready-to-go soups, p-b and j sandwiches and Kudos bars. The real crowd-pleaser was the hot chocolate. It was seriously cold outside and everyone seemed to really appreciate the hot treat.

The crowd was somewhat small which was a good thing. I was glad to know that the turnout was lower than usual because it meant that people probably did find shelter that night.  We were asked to be as friendly and helpful as possible and encouraged to feel comfortable chatting with people.  It’s not uncommon to find that many of the people who show up at the Night Ministry van haven’t been asked,"How was your day?" in a long time.  I couldn’t help but notice how cordial and friendly everyone was and how young some of these kids are.


The bike community in Chicago is a pretty tight-knit group, but after our experience, I think we felt even closer. I’m glad we did this and hope that in the future we'll do more volunteer projects as a group.

I ride my bike to make a difference in the world--one pedal stroke at a time. That night, we all did.