A Time For Something Good
Jaclyn Pearson was in her second hour of work in the basement of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s West Side, and she had long since lost count of how many shopping bags she had stuffed with green beans and sweet corn and apples.
Pearson, a first-year from Freeport, Illinois, was one of about 100 Elmhurst students who had made the brief bus ride from campus on September 11 to pass out produce to some of the neediest residents of West Garfield Park. On long folding tables set up in the lower level of the church were piles of carrots, peppers and greens. The display of plenty belied the fact that on most other days in the neighborhood, it’s not so easy to find decent produce. The mom-and-pop corner stores that line Madison Street and Cicero Avenue are bulging with snacks and sodas, but fruits and vegetables remain scarce.
Down in the basement, Pearson filled another bag with a representative array of produce and twisted it closed. A neighborhood woman made her way to the table next to Pearson’s and thanked the volunteers for the food. One of the students thanked the woman for coming.
“I think we get as much out of this as they do,” Pearson said.
This was the third annual venture by Elmhurst students to a West Side church to do community service. In previous years, students had focused on gun violence, hunger and other problems facing urban neighborhoods, as part of the Partners for Peace program of the College’s Niebuhr Center. This year, the emphasis was on providing needed goods and services. So volunteers from the Compassionate Care Network, a health-care charity, provided free health screenings at the church. And students from Villa Park’s Islamic Foundation worked with Elmhurst students to distribute fresh produce that had been trucked in from farms near Plainfield.
“It’s sad to say, but you don’t have to go far from home to find hunger and need,” said Jazmine Martinez, a junior from West Chicago, who was distributing food at the church. “People here lack access to health care and they lack access to fresh food. These are things no one should be denied.”
The project also marked the kickoff of Elmhurst’s participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge, a national program started by President Barack Obama. Elmhurst is part of a group of 250 colleges and universities committing to service that, in the words of a White House document, builds “understanding between different communities and contribute[s] to the common good.”
Later this year, Elmhurst students will work with DuPage County PADS to provide shelter for the homeless and with Habitat for Humanity on home-construction projects.
“Elmhurst has been a leader in this kind of service for a long time,” said the Reverend Ron Beauchamp, the director of the Niebuhr Center. “This President’s Challenge just helps us take it to the next level.”
For some of the students working at New Mount Pilgrim Church, that meant heading out into the neighborhood to invite residents to the church. In small groups they walked up and down the neighborhood’s streets, starting conversations with parents and children sitting on front stoops and extending invitations to groups of young men hanging out on street corners.
At the church, there was an interfaith service marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks and a concert featuring the Elmhurst College Jazz Band.
“We were really well received,” said Rachel Lapp, an Elmhurst student from Park Ridge who had been encouraging residents to come to the church. “Today you have to do something good. There’s been a lot of loss, a lot of grief on this day. It’s time for something good to happen.”