[Hpn] Ray of hope in the night
Sun, 21 Nov 2004 13:53:39 -0500
Ray of hope in the night
By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter
November 21, 2004
Creaking and squeaking, The Night Ministry's outreach van, an aged school
bus refitted as a mobile soup kitchen, pulled up to a stretch of West 63rd
Street where, on many blocks, there was more rubble than buildings.
It was a hellish street scene out of some modern Dante's vision.
Elevated trains rumbled overhead, the light from their windows piercing the
gloom like moving candles. Scarcely a passerby was to be seen.
Then, at about 8 p.m., a folding table was set with the evening's offering:
homemade chicken soup provided by Unity in Chicago, a church in a pleasant
North Side neighborhood.
As if from nowhere, children appeared. By the twos and threes, they stepped
out of the darkness. Some were preteens. Others looked no bigger than 1st
graders. There were perhaps several dozen in all.
"They know they have to take care of themselves," explained Gregory
Hardaway, a pastor who meets the van at its weekly stops in Woodlawn. "Their
mothers might be on drugs. Not many have fathers at home."
Approaching The Night Ministry van, the children wore hardened, tough
expressions--a coping skill boys and girls learn early in an inner-city
neighborhood. But with a cup of soup or hot chocolate in their hands, many
broke out in smiles.
Volunteer workers brought out a football to toss around with the kids.
Basking in the unaccustomed adult attention, the youngsters squealed with
delight, like children of more fortunate communities.
A would-be drummer boy named Edward beat out rhythms on every ersatz
tom-tom or crash symbol within reach: soup kettles, sidewalks, the folding
table. His drumsticks were rounded slats from some abandoned baby crib.
The after-dark outreach program is operated by The Night Ministry, one of
the Chicago-area groups supported by Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving, a
campaign of Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Tribune Foundation fund.
A nondenominational organization dependent on the efforts of scores of
volunteers from all walks of life, The Night Ministry was founded in 1976.
It has an annual budget of $3 million and runs a youth homeless shelter. It
also sends out counselors to make contact with runaway and cast-off young
Loaded with cookies and birth-control devices, The Night Ministry van goes
out six times a week to street corners of the forgotten and beaten.
The back end of the former school bus is set up as medical clinic, staffed
by a nurse. It is often trailed by a second vehicle equipped to do
quick-reading HIV tests on denizens of a hardscrabble world of intravenous
needles and casual sex--and, for some, a place of no fixed addresses.
Initial ride a bit confusing
Riding along for the first time can be a discombobulating experience. Fred
Molzahn, a retired salesman and regular Night Ministry volunteer, recalled
his initial outing. A prostitute came to the van's door to get a fistful of
"In her other arm, she was holding an infant," Molzahn said.
But at the van's first stop on this night, there weren't many adults.
Hardaway explained that experience has taught The Night Ministry to make a
second stop in Woodlawn, a few blocks away, near the pool-hall hangout of
"Before that, the gangbangers would come around here," he said. "They'd
snatch the sandwiches out of the little kids' hands."
At another stop, two middle-aged women got into the van. One was shaking
uncontrollably, perhaps because she was thinly dressed. She also had
multiple medical problems, and had no place to sleep that night.
She sought out Matt Black, a seminary intern at McCormick Theological
Seminary and Night Ministry volunteer. He thought it was because he was
wearing a clerical collar. The woman wasn't as concerned about her immediate
problems, he noted, while another staff member phoned a homeless shelter for
"She wanted to know if God recognized what she was going through," Black
said. "She was looking for a little bit of hope. We all are."
`Those kids will make it'
Mike Nash, another volunteer, explained that he goes out with the van
weekly for the same reason he became a Chicago police officer 17 years ago.
"I wanted to help people," he said. "Maybe, this way, one or two more of
those kids will make it."
He noted that The Night Ministry van gives him and other volunteers a peek
at a world where some people never give up, no matter how much the cards are
stacked against them.
Hardaway noted those kids who show up for a weekly bowl of soup sometimes
take over when adults have failed them.
"If their mother is on drugs, they know a social worker will be coming to
place them in different foster homes," Hardaway said. "So the oldest child
will take the smaller ones to hide out in an abandoned building, trying to
keep the family together."
The children of the inner city also know how to say thank you, in their own
way. As volunteers packed up the van, William the drummer boy asked: "You
want me to do you a beat?"
He beat on the folding table, even as it was being folded. . He was still
pounding out a rhythm on the bus's metallic sides as the engine was started.
Then off into the night The Night Ministry van, loaded with cookies and
condoms, rumbled to its next stop, bringing a glimmer of hope to part the
Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune