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Letter to the Editor: Chicago Community Connections Collects Toiletries

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Dear Editor:

On behalf of The Grand Food Center in Glencoe and Winnetka, I’d like to tell you about a Glencoe Union Church teen group that will post collection bins in our stores Aug. 15-23 as part of a toiletry collection drive.

This teen group, “Chicago Community Connections,” has made providing comfort to Chicago’s homeless its primary focus. This six-person group this summer will be gathering personal-sized toiletry items in hopes of assembling 500, separate hygiene kits in Ziploc bags. The bags will benefit the Night Ministry, a Chicago-based social service provider that operates from a fully equipped RV.

The group’s leader is Glencoe teen Henry Dyke, who will be a junior this fall at Woodberry Forest, a Virginia boarding school. The remainder of the group is composed of New Trier High School students. While the group’s peers this summer have enjoyed sleeping late and bemoaning the pressures of school, Dyke and his colleagues have been on a dogged mission to fill their 500-Ziploc bag goal, as well as to raise $1,500 to purchase items that they don’t collect.

This summer, he admits, has been spent trying to raise money for his group, and making an endless stream of phone calls to hotel chains in search of donations of travel-sized items.

“I haven’t had much luck with that,” Dyke says in a somber tone. “Everyone reminds me that it’s because of the economy.”

For the past two summers, Dyke and his pal Casey Karnes have “adopted” the Night Ministry, a Chicago non-profit that outfits a bus to roam Chicago neighborhoods to assist its area homeless.  Six days a week, after sunset, the bus transverses the Chicago neighborhoods of Uptown, Roseland, South Shore, Humboldt Park, Pilsen and Wicker Park, pulling over at selected stops, providing HIV testing, and contacts to social services.

Last year, the Night Ministry bus served an estimated 80,000 people in these neighborhoods. The organization has been a part of the Ravenswood community for 35 years.

Dyke’s first experience with the Night Ministry goes back three years, when he and his church group raised money for a sandwich drive. Obtaining bread from donations, they used the money to purchase sandwich meat, and drove the sandwiches for a massive giveaway in the Pilsen community.

After that experience, he was hooked. He also set about recruiting some New Trier friends, and was soon joined by his younger brother, John, as well as Casey Karnes, Charlie Maher, Sam Orient, and Josh Perlmutter.  

Last summer, Dyke and Karnes came up with an idea to collect toiletries for the Night Ministry. They also sought contributions for other necessary items—like disposable razors, moist towelettes, deodorant, wash cloths, packets of shaving cream, and lip balm. The $507 they raised was spent purchasing these items in bulk at a wholesale web site.

“We poured everything on my dining room table at home,” says Dyke. “We filled about 200 Ziploc bags,” he continues. “My parents were happy to get use of the table after a few days.”

While his parents are proud of him, that praise reaches well past the Dyke household.

“Henry just continues to impress us,” says Gail Bernoff, who serves as the Night Ministry’s volunteer coordinator. “He’s a smart, smart kid, and very poised for someone his age.”

She recalls first meeting Henry last year, when she took over the volunteer coordinator role for another staffer. “Henry delivered 200 hygienic kits to us, which I remember being pretty phenomenal,” she recalls. “We didn’t specifically ask him to do it,” Bernoff reflects. “He just went ahead and did it.”

The teen group will erect toiletry donation bins in the Grand Food Center stores on Green Bay Road in Winnetka, as well as its sister store, Dee Jay Foods, on Hazel Street, in Glencoe, from Monday, Aug. 15, to Sunday, Aug. 23.

For those interested in making a contribution, please make your checks out to Glencoe Union Church, 263 Park Avenue, Glencoe, IL, 60022-1398, and write “Night Ministry” in the subject field. To learn more about this collection drive, contact Henry Dyke, 847-507-5115, or via e-mail at chicagocommunityconnections@gmail.com.

-Joe White

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