Annual Homewood art project: Benches for Change support SSFS

By: Carole Sharwarko

HF Chronicle July 15, 2020

Colorful and conveniently placed benches have popped up around downtown Homewood, the 2020 incarnation of an annual art installation.

Benches for Changes is a program facilitated by Homewood Business Association that benefits South Suburban Family Shelter, a Homewood-based nonprofit organization that provides services to families experiencing domestic violence.

This year’s project follows previous ones that saw dogs on parade and Adirondack chairs, locally integrated art that benefitted South Suburban Humane Society and Cancer Support Center, respectively.

Julie Lawton, director of Homewood Business Association, said the organization planned a while ago to use the 2020 art installation to benefit SSFS.

“We told them last year that we wanted to work with them because it’s their 40-year anniversary,” said Lawton, who is co-owner of UpsaDaisy Boutique in Homewood.

Twenty-two unfinished benches were bought by businesses, organizations and individuals, who assembled and painted them with a theme of their choosing.

To make the benches durable for outdoor use, Homewood Auto Body donated time and material to seal each bench with the same clear coat it uses on cars. The business also sprayed the dogs and chairs of previous installations, protecting them from the natural elements.

“One of the biggest contributors for us is Scott (Saalman) from Homewood Auto Body,” Lawton said. “They have offered to spray the final coat on any art installation we do. It’s a very costly thing for him to do.”

After being enjoyed by visitors to Homewood’s downtown throughout the summer, the benches will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting SSFS. Previous auctions were held at Homewood’s Fall Fest. Since the fate is uncertain for that event for this year, the auction will be tied in with SSFS’s annual gala in October.

While the two-seater benches encourage connection between people, Lawton said that can be tricky during a time when COVID restrictions keep us apart. However, someone can sit with a family member or a close friend for a chat, or sit alone for quiet reflection.

“You’re welcome to sit on the benches. We want people to sit on them and enjoy them,” Lawton said. “It’s nice to stop and just think about life and the wonderful experiences you have with the people closest to you.”

Jewish volunteer group collects carloads of meals for families in need

By: Carole Sharwarko

H-F Chronicle July 10, 2020

Volunteers unloaded bags of food so that donors could stay inside their air conditioned cars on a sultry Wednesday morning, during a food collection for South Suburban Family Shelter.

The event was organized by the local group of Juf Tikkun Olam Network of Volunteers (TOV) within the Jewish United Fund. About a half-dozen volunteers stood in front of South Suburban Vineyard Church in Flossmoor, welcoming locals who signed up to put together food for a meal.

Volunteers Sarah Goldman, from left, Tracey Levy and Aaron Latman sort donated food in front of South Suburban Vineyard Church in Flossmoor. (Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)
Volunteers Sarah Goldman, from left, Tracey Levy and Aaron Latman sort donated food in front of South Suburban Vineyard Church in Flossmoor. (Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)

TOV requested that donors bring a full complement of ingredients to create one entire meal of either breakfast, lunch or dinner. They offered sample menus:

  • Breakfast: Box of pancake mix, bottle of syrup, jar of peanut butter, jar of jam, two cans of fruit
  • Lunch: Box of rice, two cans of pinto beans, can of diced tomatoes, can of corn, package of fruit cups
  • Dinner: Two boxes of pasta, two jars of pasta sauce, two cans of vegetables, two cans of beans, jar of applesauce

“Because of COVID, many different organizations and food pantries are shut down, and families in need aren’t getting the same kind of help,” said Amy Bloomberg, a volunteer who organizes south suburban activities for JUF.

The food was destined for the kitchens of SSFS clients. The organization, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, provides comprehensive services to families experiencing domestic violence.

Food drive participants signed up to donate a certain number of meals, Bloomberg said, and the list included more than 100 meals committed.

However, volunteer Aaron Latman said quite a few people pulled up with cars holding more than promised — whole trunkloads of food, said the junior at H-F High School.

Latman said he volunteers often around Homewood and Flossmoor, collecting needed service hours while getting a sense of satisfaction by helping the community.

“I’ve helped SSFS out as a volunteer in the past, so this is not my first rodeo,” Latman said. “It’s just two hours; I’m more than happy to help.”

Volunteers braved hot temperatures on Wednesday morning to collect food for South Suburban Family Shelter. (Provided photo)
Volunteers braved hot temperatures on Wednesday morning to collect food for South Suburban Family Shelter. (Provided photo)

Latman and other volunteers unloaded grocery bags from the drive-by donors, then sorted the items into paper sacks lined up on the grass. The bags teetered, filled with jars of peanut butter, bottles of syrup and canned vegetables, beans and meat — important protein, Bloomberg said.

Volunteer Tracey Levy said she heard about the food drive from Bloomberg, and was excited to participate in a local nonprofit event. She’s a member of the Society of Women Engineers and also Junior League, and said she misses attending in-person events with those organizations.

“We’ve been doing virtual events, but it’s not the same,” Levy said. “This was a way I could be here physically helping.”

Staff and volunteers from SSFS helped load up the donated food — enough to fill five cars — to be delivered directly to its counseling office and to clients in its Sanctuary Program.

SSFS events coordinator Brittany Williams called the collection turnout “amazing,” and said the agency is storing additional food at its Homewood administration office for later distribution.

“It’s such a great feeling to know our clients won’t have to worry, and that we have such strong support from the community,” Williams said.