For many years there was a Christian organization, in Illinois, called Brothers in Christ which had an IRS 502 C status as a non-profit organization which owned two white Dodge vans. These vans were used to haul food and supplies to the Olive Branch Mission in Chicago every Saturday night and on all holidays when the paid staff were not present. Brothers In Christ consisted of seventeen other Christian Churches or organizations who would volunteer their efforts or take turns in feeding people on all fifty-two Saturday nights each year. It worked out that each church would do this 4-5 times a year to include Christmas and 4th of July if they were not on a weekend and always Thanksgiving Day. The people who organized that organization scheduled the feeding of the men, women and children at the Olive Branch Mission located at 234 West Madison Street in Chicago, Illinois each Saturday night. Each Saturday afternoon around 16:00 we left from the Zion Lutheran Church on 187th street just East of Cicero Avenue for the ride into Chicago. If there were too many volunteers we would only take 16-17 people in many vehicles. It was beautiful thing to have 20-30 people holding hands in the gym and praying for our mission prior to each time we traveled into Chicago. Nuns, children, teenagers, adults, assistant pastors, priests and pastors from many different denominations gathered in the gym for prayer prior to getting their job assignments. There were also some intercity pastors dressed as homeless men. This was done so that they could be closer to their fellow brothers so that they could administer to their spiritual needs without the homeless men ever knowing that they were pastors. The number of volunteers needed did include at least one piano player and several singers and unfortunately one person to pull guard duty on the vehicles parked in the alley. So sometimes there were so many volunteers that several of the people who showed up to go each Saturday would not have to go downtown. No one knew how many would show up, ahead of time, on any given Saturday night so there was almost always enough good people to do the feedings correctly and efficiently.

There was also a similar all volunteer Jewish group in Skokie, Illinois that did the same thing each and every Sunday night; to feed the people in two buildings. The South side group did the Jewish holidays and we would do Christmas when it fell on Sundays. The women and children were kept separate form the homeless men, a few of which unfortunately were not fully trustworthy. If there were a homeless family the men still had to eat with the men and not the female members of their own family. An assistant pastor from Peace Church has his wallet lifted one Saturday night at the mission. The bottom line is that for 82 years people were feed from that mission. Today the mission is at 63rd and Western, in Chicago and does not feed street people. They care for homeless families at an old former Catholic retreat center. Mayor Daily closed the Olive Branch Mission, on Madison Street, and helped them move to “clean up the neighborhood” prior the democRATic convention and the building of new United Center in the early nineties.

One Wednesday night my friend Gary Zykowski and I had volunteered to coordinate the volunteers for the feeding for which Peace Community Church which had been assigned to the yearly schedule for that upcoming Saturday night feeding.

While we were shopping at Cub Foods in Joliet, Illinois we had a chance encounter with a fellow member of Peace Church (name given with permission Sept. ’97 and again in the summer of 2002, who is now my neighbor with only one house between us.) Mrs. Leslie Tokarski who inquired “What were we going to be serving to our Christian brothers on Saturday.” There was a long pause while Gary pretended to be eating something while attempting to try to make up his mind on what he was going to say. Upon explaining to Leslie that mushroom soup would be very appetizing; for we were going to have string beans in the soup with croutons with it and we were going to add pieces of hot dogs to “our” soup which he now called a casserole.
Leslie, had heard enough, and interrupted Gary and told us: “God’s children deserve better than that.” She then opened up her purse signed a check and ripped it out of her checkbook and gave it to Gary. She told Gary and I to serve them steak and watermelon with additional fruit (so that they would have something like an orange, apple or banana to take with them on to the street, which we always did as did all the other volunteer groups, by written directive from the Olive Branch Mission) and dessert and she left us to continue to do her own shopping.

While Gary and I were waiting in line to pay for the nine shopping baskets of food and many watermelons, an elderly man, three check-out isles East of us, asked us aloud enough to catch everyone’s attention. “What are you two doing with so much food?” Gary yelled back that: “We are going to feed the homeless at the Olive Branch Mission on Madison Street in Chicago this coming Saturday night, Lord willing.” You could have heard a pin drop as now most everyone present was listening to our loud conversation. The old man then asked: “Do we work at that mission?” Gary yelled back: “No we are members of Peace Church in Frankfort just taking our turn with an organization called Brothers in Christ to feed the street people this Saturday.” The old man immediately shouted back: “You two must have really sinned to be stuck with that job.” At which time the whole crowd was now laughing as we did ourselves while waiting in line at Cub Foods that summer night.
What is so sad is that, that men had no clue to whom we were really serving.

I went on ahead to get the white van in the parking lot while Gary stood by the shopping carts of food which we had purchased with Leslie’s check. As I drove up to the curb where Gary was waiting I could see that Gary was unabashedly crying and leaning against the steel roof support pole. “What is wrong” I inquired. While looking for blood or some reason for his suffering. “God is great God is so great” was his only reply.
“I know god is great.” I said. “No! You do not know how truly great God really is. You do not know how wonderful He always is.” and he continued to have tears coming down his cheek. We loaded the van and Gary finally told me as we drove down Larkin Avenue to get back on I-80 to store the food in the kitchen at Peace Church for Saturday’s cooking in the church kitchen. “You know it was my turn to pay for this feeding but I did not have enough money to pay for the food tonight. I did not have the heart to tell you before we got to the check out counter that I was broke this week. I was going to give you all the monies I received from our regular donors; but I was going to ask you to pay the difference for all the food we needed with one of your credit cards. God is so great to send us Leslie.” I confirmed: God is Great.”
What he didn’t know and that I never mentioned, at that time, was that I was “maxed out” on my visa having just funded most of my employee’s payroll that morning.

Later, being on the mission committee we were able to fund this outreach from the mission committee. Praise the Lord.

I want to relate another time is that Gary and I were doing the same Wednesday routine shopping for the following Saturday feeding: Gary and I, as best friends can do, disagreeing on how many large cans of Whyler’s powered lemonade to purchase. Gary only let me purchase three cans and I wanted to buy four as usual. He wanted to save monies and only let me get three and I was not happy about this and I let him know my opinion on this single subject. This was our only disagreement during our four years we were honored to serve Him in this way together. One can mixed with water serves twenty gallons in the 30 gallon large two handed steel pot which has a spout at the bottom with which one can use to fill his singe drinking cup with by turning the black handle. We mixed the powered lemonade with a garden hose attached to the three sinks indexed by stainless steel walls on one huge wash sink in the kitchen of the Olive Branch Mission. Two faucets one had the hose on it. The mission had two of these 30 gallon serving pots in their kitchen. One was always in the serving area on a table while the other one was being re-filled in the kitchen during the hour and a half scheduled serving times.

On that particular night a young jr-high school girl, way too young to be in the serving area, and to cute or good looking be out in the area of the dirty old men. All first time volunteers start in the kitchen no matter who they are. I assigned her to fill the lemonade pot to the line on the pot which as imprinted or molded near the top of the pot. She was tall enough to turn on and off the faucet in the rear of the sink. I was the kitchen boss that night. We used throw-a-way aluminum pans so no washing up of the serving pans. I did open all three Wyler’s cans before we opened the door from the basement where the men waited from another entrance to the mission. We only had three lemonade cans that night.

Over an hour later, two volunteers, carried the third and last batch of lemonade to the serving table thru the kitchen door to the serving table room which feeds approx. 140 men at a time. The women are in a building next door any only adult women volunteers go over there with the food and small ten gallon lemonade which is dumped from the large 30 gallon one in the serving area. So Gary carries the lighter or empty pot from the serving area and tells me to fill it with water for everyone has now had lemonade. I laid it next to the sink and the girl turned on the hose with water which is the last thing I remember about this filling of that empty pot. I will also mention that the mentioned pots do have lids on them which stay on the pots for health reasons unless that are being filled. Awhile later we carry the “water” pot out to the feeding area and Gary comes back with the empty pot. He is mad a me. He wanted to know why I took the mission’s lemonade from the storage room. I assured him that the storage room was locked and I did not but any extra lemonade power or mix into the pot that was now serving lemonade. To this day we do not know how we got four pots of lemonade from three cans.

Did the first time person the young girl put two cans in the second pot and it was in the middle and not get mixed by the hose? I didn’t tell her how to mix the pile of mix in the water. However when you do the logistics that forth pot was the second pot earlier. That intelligent looking young girl would not have put two cans in the second pot knowing that it was all of the mix on hand. The last can of mix was in the first pot which became the third pot in rotation.

We are very rushed when we arrive at the mission and the duties are not always defined to new volunteers. What we do now that the forth pot was normal lemonade and not watered down for we all, and I mean we all, drank some of the lemonade and open up the pot to see the normal color of real lemonade.

One more part of our experiences feeding the street people:
During the seven years Gary did this he never got a red light. Driving to get the two vans on Wednesday nights to the Church. (yes two drivers) Then driving to and from the stores. Driving to the mission and returning and then Monday or Sunday or Saturday night dropping off the vans.

Gary asked me one night, after several years of doing this, after I had joined with him to do this mission. “Have you noticed anything unusual while we drive?” I said: “I do not want to tell you but I have not had a red light when I am following you while driving these vans.” I did it for four years Gary for seven years. We never had a red traffic light to bring us to a full stop.
George F.


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