The coronavirus is making this a holiday season like no other, with so many of us adjusting our plans in order to protect the health and safety of our loved ones and those around us.
At The Night Ministry, we are also adapting our annual holiday celebrations to align with recommended COVID-19 procedures, while still sharing the magic of the season with the families, youth, and adults we serve.
That means, for example, that the annual holiday celebration that brings together current and former residents of The Night Ministry's Youth Programs for a meal, games, and gifts won't be happening. Instead, a celebration will be held at each of the five individual shelter programs, with socially distant activities and individually packaged meals.
Devin Redmond, Residential Services Coordinator at The Night Ministry, said it's especially important to bring the holiday spirit into the Youth Housing Programs this year.
"Our residents have been doing a good job following the COVID protocols we have in place in our shelters," he said. "We want to bring holiday cheer into the programs because we know people can't celebrate as a larger community."
More than 100 special meals are on order for the celebrations from JA2 Grille + Catering, a minority owned business on the South Side. Redmond and his colleagues will be delivering some of those meals to former residents of The Night Ministry's Youth Programs as well as to participants in the new Flexible Housing Pool Program, which supports young adults who have experienced homelessness in their own market-rate rental apartments.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, young people will also be receiving plush bathrobes, sleeping wear, and slippers as well as holiday stockings with phone chargers and ear buds.
Holiday stockings—donated by supporters and filled with hygiene items, hand and toe warmers, socks, and this year, a face mask—are always a big part of the holiday celebrations at the Health Outreach Bus.
Andrew Hart, Volunteer Coordinator at The Night Ministry, said The Night Ministry has been planning for months on how to make the celebrations at the Bus safe for staff and clients.
"We'll be distributing food, beverages, stockings, and wrapped gifts for children from different stations," he said, "to prevent people from crowding in one area."
"In addition, at some of our busier stops such as South Shore and Humboldt Park, we have made arrangements with community members to utilize additional spaces around the stops so we have more room to spread out," he said.
Hart said The Night Ministry's Street Medicine Team has already begun distributing holiday stockings, pouched in a drawstring bag, to the individuals it serves on the streets of the city.
Finally, as they have for so many years, Anshe Emet Synagogue will be teaming up with the Youth Outreach Team to hold a Festival of Lights on an upcoming Thursday evening in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. The outdoor celebration will also follow safety protocols.