Thursday, November 22, 2012


I love this blog. I love the people I write about. And I love the people who read what I write.  For the most part, I've transitioned my blog over to the new site, ChicagoNow.  It really doesn't make sense to keep two blogs with identical content updated every time I write.  But this little place on the web is where it all began so I have no intention of shutting things down here.  I just won't be here as often. However, you can always find my thoughts about being a neighbor to the homeless over at the new place - come say hello sometime!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Cold Weather's Hitting The Windy City...Time To Get Back Out To The Streets

Hello, friends...

I hope this year has been a good one for you.  I've had my ups and downs but, most important, I've had some big growth "a-ha" moments and I enter this winter season more aware, more confident, and more peaceful than I think I have ever been in my life.  I'm also more determined to help as many street people as I can this winter. 

First things first:  thank you again (it can NOT be said enough) to those of you who have supported me in what I do, either through kind words or donations.  You encourage and inspire me.

Second:  in case you aren't aware, The Pink Bag Project is primarily a winter effort.  The cold weather here in Chicago is brutal.  Since I'm not a government-funded (aka: government-controlled) organization, I only operate my project from Thanksgiving Day through the month of April.  I should have written a blog post about that last spring and I apologize for not doing so!  I'd never really kept a blog about what I do before so it hadn't occurred to me but, in the future, I'll send an "end of TPBP's season" message!

Third:  All the above said, it's that time of year again!  Thanksgiving Day in the USA is next Thursday, the 24th of November.  Normally, that's my kick-off day; however, last night brought the beginnings of the bitter winds and below-freezing temperatures so I made an "executive decision" that ramping up nine days early might not be a bad idea.  Especially after I saw this guy curled up under a thin blanket huddled in the corner of a building:

Doubly so after an attractive, well-dressed woman walked by and, seeing my look of concern, said with a laugh, "Oh don't pay any attention - they're always there!" before walking away.  Only moments before, I'd been inside a festively decorated store that had been piping Bing Crosby's voice through the system:  "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!"  It made my heart sad for this man to think that he'll probably be curled up just like this on Christmas. 

So I sighed, walked home, packed up some socks, gloves, toiletries, breakfast bars, hand and toe warmers, leashed up my Jilly Bean and headed back out.  I quietly walked up to the man under the blanked.  Hearing Jilly's paws, he looked out from under his blanket, an expression of panic on his face.  I simply said, "I don't have much but I brought you some things to help you get through the next couple of days.  I hope they help. Do you need anything else?  I'll be around if you need me.  My name's E."  He looked down and shook his head quickly and I went on my way.

He's the first of what I'm sure will be many this winter.  One by one, I'll help them through it - hug your loved ones, people, and, if you can, do a kind turn for someone who needs it.  It doesn't have to be anything big... just let someone who feels alone in the world know that you see them and that he or she matters.

Love you all bunches...


Saturday, April 9, 2011

As I was riding the bus home from work one night, I noticed this woman sitting across from me.  Two girls in their 20s were sitting a few seats away laughing, rolling their eyes and pointing.  I don't think I'll ever understand what makes people feel entitled to treat others in such a terrible manner.

Woman On Bus.jpg

She was wearing several sweaters and shirts layered under her coat.  On her legs were filthy, grey snow pants and a hot pink party skirt - you can see the tulle if you look carefully at the photo to the left.  What a heart-wrenching study in contrasts!

I don't know this woman's name or her story.  I didn't have the heart to ask her - she was utterly worn out.  I couldn't help noticing her chin bobbing down to her chest while she attempted to stay awake in vain; eventually, after several bouts of nodding off slightly before jerking upright, an exhausted sleep overtook her. 

Most heartbreaking, however, were her feet.  If you look closely, they were extremely swollen, the skin cracked and dry. Her right shoe must have had some pretty big holes because, wrapped around her foot and ankle were two plastic bags (an attempt to keep feet dry).

It just doesn't seem fair that, in addition to not having a way to stay warm and dry in cold, wet weather - something most of us take for granted - these people have to suffer through the humiliation of being ridiculed by people who are more privileged than they are.

So what did I do?  The same thing I always do.  I've learned that turning on the offenders with a few scathing comments of my own is usually bound to be an exercise in futility.  Instead, I reached into my purse and quietly took out a zip-lock bagged care package consisting of two pair of socks, toothpaste, deodorant, two granola bars, hand warmers and all-in-one wash and set it on top of the plastic grocery bag that contained the rest of her belongings.  As I returned to my own seat, I gave the girls a look of pity and slightly shook my head.  They'd been staring at me (I'm used to it by now) and as I met their eyes, they quickly looked away in silence.

'Nuff said.

Read more:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I met Carmen as I meet so many people each week:  she was standing on a corner jingling a cup for change so I stopped to see what I could do to help her.  A Chicago native, Carmen has lived most of her life hustling on the streets.  At one point, she became addicted to crystal meth.  She's been clean for four years now - I hope she's proud of that accomplishment.

As we talked, a group of young men walked by.  She quietly held out her cup as usual.  They burst out laughing. "Shyeahright... disgusting!" and kept going.  Carmen turned to me and said "Man, you know what?  Living here on the streets?  this is punishment enough... I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.  But for another human being to treat me that way?  I just don't think I'll ever understand.  I'm not rude... I try to stay clean... I'm not aggressive.  Why they gotta do me like that?  Why?"  I just wanted to cry for her.  But seeing the tears in her own eyes as her lower lip quivered, I told myself, "Kelley, don't you dare cry.  Don't you dare," because to stand there crying in front of people passing by?  For people like Carmen, that's the ultimate humiliation.

I asked her about the possibility of sleeping in a shelter.  She said the same thing so many other people have told me:  most of the shelters are full of violence, theft, and a severe bed bug problem.  I began rummaging in my bag for things that could give her some comfort for the moment:  dry socks, toiletries, and a cup of hot cocoa.  We continued to talk as she sipped the warm drink.  Another group of young guys walked past.  She didn't even bother to hold out her cup.  Then, one of the men doubled back, slipped a Visa gift card in her cup and said, "here, go get yourself something to eat, sweetie."

Carmen is just one of so many people I meet each week.  She didn't ask to be born into a life of drugs, disease and street living.  Could she have gotten out of that lifestyle when she was young?  Sure.  But you know what?  I didn't grow up in her environment.  I have absolutely no right to judge her and the choices she made in her youth that she's paying for now.  None whatsoever.  The only thing I can do is be a decent human being, do what I can to help her stay alive and encourage her to make right choices now.

If you see Carmen or someone like her somewhere in this city, show a little compassion.  You don't have to give money.  You don't have to walk around with a bag full of things like I do.  Just stop a moment and say, "how are you?"  It means the world to someone to know that he or she matters enough for you to simply say hello.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Matter The Weather...

Today is another one of those days... windy... bitterly cold... snow flurries... and last night there was a thunder storm.  If you've been following me for any length of time, you already know that I have a "more than" full-time job, working (at minimum) 50 hours each week.  I mention this for a very specific reason:  I worked last night and, as I was running after work - at midnight - from point A to point B, I stepped into a large, splashy puddle.  In the bone chilling night air.  It. Was. Awful.  My socks were immediately drenched.  And it instantly made me think of all of the homeless people on the streets who aren't lucky enough to go someplace warm to change clothes and curl up under warm covers after a hot bath at night.

So guess where I'm going today.  That's right - the pink bag is packed with socks, socks and more clean, dry socks to distribute. 

Oh!  And today, I'll be bringing something else (I'm VERY excited about this):  HOME MADE CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP!  A very kind person gifted a large, sturdy thermos to the project.  I'm so excited to be able to offer this to the people I'll visit on the streets today!  I'll post an update to this entry when I get home tonight.

Until then...

One last note for now:  I will be exporting this blog to ChicagoNow, a highly trafficked online site owned by the Chicago Tribune.  The blog will also have a new name:  The Pink Bag Project:  Neighboring The Neighborless. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


FACT:  In 2010, there were at least 88,923 homeless Chicagoans, a 19.9% increase from 2009.
FACT:  Of the homeless population, approximately 11,471 are unaccompanied homeless youth - or, homeless kids who are living alone.  That's 12.9% of Chicago's homeless population.
FACT:  There are about 60,000 homeless children in Illinois right this minute.  25,000 of them are unaccompanied youth.

Each night, there are at least 6,000 people sleeping on the streets of Chicago.  That simply is unacceptable.

I go out each weekend taking socks,toiletries, clothing and anything else I might have so that I can help these people get through another day while they wait for housing. I spend time with them, chat with them, treat them like what they are:  fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity.  Often, others come with me.  This particular photograph was taken on one of these weekends.  I occasionally meet up with a suburban church outreach ministry.  They're good people with good hearts and, no matter what, they come out once each month to spend a day with the people who live on the streets of Chicago.  What about you?  What are you doing to make a difference?

You Need To Leave, Ma'am

One Sunday, I stopped into a fast food restaurant for a cup of coffee.  Immediately, a woman called out to me from one of the tables, "Hey!  Buy me a fish sandwich??"  She was filthy and a strong, eye-watering odour emanated from her body.  I handed her a small gift certificate for the restaurant and said, "enjoy."  She got her sandwich, ate it quickly, then sat back down. 

A family came in and, offended by her body odor, complained to the management. A police officer was called to handle the situation and the woman was ordered to leave.  She quietly got up, slowly put on her tattered overcoat and walked out the door. Something about the scene just broke my heart.  This woman didn't ask to be homeless.  If she'd been wearing the "right" clothing and didn't have bad body odor, she wouldn't have been ordered to leave. I just couldn't believe it.


This is Abana.  He looks tough.  He sounds tough.  Actually, he is tough.  You'd probably give him a wide berth if you saw him coming your way on the sidewalk.  But here's what you don't know... He has to be tough after everything he's been through.  Abana had a life, a family, a job, a home.  His wife passed away a few years ago.  His son, an aspiring student who defied the neighborhood norm and refused to join a gang, was shot to death in his own doorway.  Abana bore this burden and persevered.  He was a janitor.  That might not seem like much as far as work goes but you know what?  It kept a roof over his head and it paid the bills.  That is, until the recession hit three years ago.  Abana hung onto his job to the best of his abilities.  He was one of the last people to be let go but eventually, there was just no more work for him.  And soon afterward, he lost his home.  I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to walk a mile in Abana's shoes.  He has my utmost respect and I'm honoured to know him.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bitter Cold, Bitter Winds In Chicago Tonight

I'm going out. I don't want to do this, I won't lie. But, although it's my choice, I can't not go. I sit here in my warm, little apartment, aware of the irony. "I'll go when it's not so freaking freezing," is just so wrong. I get to come home to a warm apartment. A hot bath. And this makes me want to cry because, where I'm going, there will be people who are telling themselves, "gotta keep moving, gotta keep warm; don't fall asleep," and I have the gall to say "I don't want to do this?"

As I write, it's 15 degrees (-8C) Fahrenheit outside with 25 mph winds. And it's only going to get colder - as cold as -29 (-34C) Fahrenheit with windchills. There are people out there with no where to go. So I'm armed with hand and feet warmers, socks, and a little food. It's not much but I've got to go.
UPDATE: I was out from 10pm until midnight last night. The good news - there weren't many people out in the wind. The bad news - there were some people out there. As I walked past a few of the 24-hour coffee shops, it seemed that they were being a little more lenient on their usual "no loitering" rules, thank goodness. Half a dozen pair of socks, hand/foot warmer sets and bus passes delivered. I finally hopped on a bus at 11:57pm when I couldn't take the cold winds any longer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Merci! Gracias! Yislamou! Danke! Hvala!.... THANK YOU!

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it."

~ William Arthur Ward

You know, one of the biggest, most wonderful surprises about "going public" with my volunteer work has been the outpouring of support I've received from friends, acquaintances and even people I've never had the pleasure of meeting before now! From the kind comment of a passer-by as I'm spending time with a homeless person on the street to the donations I've received... I am in awe and cannot thank you enough for sharing a love that has transformed me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To the friend in Michigan who sent a humongous box of coats, blankets, socks and more... THANK YOU.

To the retired social worker who has started a "socks drive" and who somehow procured a stack of vouchers for coats at the Salvation Army store for me to give out... THANK YOU.

To the people who have added manpower and strength by joining me on the streets, and especially to those who have spent your holidays doing so... THANK YOU.

To the anonymous donor who surprised me with a check for $200, enabling me to buy 48 pair of socks, 48 toothbrushes, 48 tubes of toothpaste, 48 nutritional bars and 48 hand warmer packets... THANK YOU.

To the guy who donated more than two dozen pair of jeans (and then fed me!)... THANK YOU.

To the church outreach ministry that joins me monthly, bringing fresh food, water, clothing and prayers... THANK YOU.

To the people who send wonderful, heartfelt messages of encouragement... THANK YOU!