Today, I finally made my way over to see what the VietNow volunteers have been up to originally under the watchful eye of United States Marine, Jim Proffitt, and now dutifully handled by his wife, Virginia, since his passing in October 2014.
On Thanksgiving Day about 26 years ago, Jim took 30 sack lunches and a thermos of coffee to the city of Chicago to feed Veterans experiencing homelessness. He just wanted to brighten their day. They enlisted the help of their four children, friends and basically anyone who would listen to grow this idea into something bigger. Now, the Chicago Sandwich Run volunteers serve lunch to over 500 people weekly and they serve a hot meal at a Mission on that same night. (It blows me away how familiar this story is!)
On Saturday, they prep the lunches (everything but the sandwiches), sort donations and get ready for the Sunday run. Then on Sunday, they whip up just over 1,000 sandwiches (two per lunch), pack the box truck with lunches, coffee, juice, clothing, blankets and toiletries. They hit the road in their mobile unit and make sure to visit all of the same spots every week as there are people who have come to appreciate and expect their arrival. They even make sure to make their way over to Maxwell Street where two men wait every week. This was Jim’s original hotspot and so it stays on the route even with only two men waiting.
I learned so much today. More than I can even remember to be able to share with all of you, but Virginia gave me the grand tour and shared tons of stories in the few hours we were together! They have a small warehouse setup in Lombard that could definitely use some organizational wizards (although I think trust will need to be earned to be able to help with that part). Much of what goes out the door is self funded from the family’s own pocket. When I originally spoke with her and asked what I could bring, I was told that she “didn’t want to put me out”. I showed up with bologna since that’s their main protein source. They use cheese (a real luxury, right?) and they have a bread guy who delivers right to them.
They have a handful of volunteers on Saturday (it can vary from one to twelve) and there are about six of them that handle Sunday’s because there is only so much room on the truck. It’s a lot of Veterans helping Veterans.
As I was leaving today, I asked if I could grab a few pictures for Michael because I wanted him to see the legacy that Jim left behind in the hope that he will want to volunteer the next time he’s home. I was snapping away and noticed an interesting item sitting on a shelf and asked Virginia about it. She told me to bring it over to her. I did and it kinda looked like a homemade “award” of some sort. She laughed and told me that it was a gag gift from someone to Jim. Basically it’s a heavily decorated paper towel holder. It’s kinda cheesy, but absolutely awesome! She wanted another Marine to have it and so it was sent home for Michael to enjoy. I was really honored to be able to bring this home for him.
I’m planning to go back on January 23rd. Virginia does not have a Facebook page for their work or keep a webpage updated. It’s all by word of mouth. I promised to share what I learned today and let her know that I was going to ask for donations. Here’s what they could use on an immediate basis:
Blankets (new or used)
Socks (new or used)
Men’s underwear – any size (new in package)
Adult Tshirts and sweatshirts (new or used)
Adult pants/jeans (new or used)
Large heavy duty brown paper lunch bags
Zipper and/or fold over sandwich baggies
Snacks – basically anything. They will put it into smaller baggies if the packaging is too big.
Homemade treats (cookies, brownies, etc.)
All used clothing donations should be freshly laundered and in usable condition (zippers work, no holes, has all buttons, etc.).
You can drop off in Lombard on almost every Saturday or Sunday from noon until 2pm (Reach out to me for the address) or I will take any donations you would like on 1/23/16.