Given its mission to provide resources and programs for older adults, creating a collection drive for a regional organization that focuses on older residents was a natural fit for the customer services department at the Oak Lawn Public Library.

“Pathlights is one of our wonderful community partners that helps so much in this effort,” said Meghan Moran, assistant department head of customer services. “They are a powerful resource in the community for older adults and those who care for them. … They were looking for donations for clients returning home after a hospital or rehabilitation stay, and we wanted to help.”

With that in mind, library staff invited Oak Lawn churches and organizations to join the drive, and Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ and Calvary Church both answered the call. “Each location has a donation bin where items are being collected,” Moran said.

Pilgrim Faith has a special connection to Pathlights, the Rev. Daniel Sather shared, because one of its longtime members, the late Donald Chapman, “was instrumental in starting Pathlights. In addition to supporting his legacy, Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ has a commitment to community.”

Thus far, the church has collected about 25 items, he said, adding that a final push will be made in the remaining weeks of the drive.

The church has always considered its ministry as “meeting the needs of the community,” Sather explained. “The community of Oak Lawn has a sizable population of older residents, and Pathlights is a service that has been used and continues to be a dependable agency that is there for our seniors, and that is important to Pilgrim Faith UCC.” He added that many church members have gotten help from Pathlights over the years.

The Rev. Daniel Stidham, of Calvary Church, said hearing about Pathlights during an October Lunch and Learn event with the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce, as well as knowing some senior members have received rent assistance, led to a desire to help the organization. “It raises the collaboration that should be connected on a deeper level as we are in the care of people. That’s our corner of service. … When the library was involved as well, it was a no brainer.”

The Oak Lawn Public Library is accepting donations to be delivered to older residents returning from stints in the hospital or rehab until Feb. 29. Donation bins can be found at the library, 9427 Raymond Ave.; Calvary Church, 10056 Central Ave.; or Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9411 S 51st Ave.

Stidham pointed out that Pathlights isn’t a public organization that receives tax money but does have “public responsibility and they kind of take ownership of this area in care for seniors.”

“It has a really interesting bridge between connecting public and private institutions that can forget the marginalized — our ‘seasoned saints’ as it were — and the caregivers and the people who are grieving as they’re hurting,” he added. “As pastor, it’s an effort of our love for Jesus spreading. My hope is this container (for donations) is a head start to a greater awareness and collaboration in the future.”

The collection drive, which began Dec. 1 and will continue through Feb. 29, focuses on items for Pathlights’ Homecoming Care Kit Program. Anyone can bring donations to the library, 9427 Raymond Ave.; Calvary, 10056 Central Ave.; or Pilgrim Faith, 9411 S 51st Ave. Thus far, it’s going well.

“We have been humbled and overwhelmed at the generosity of the community for the drive. So far, we have received over 1,400 individual items that will be packaged into the care baskets,” Moran shared.

“Our initial goal was to create at least 40 care baskets. We believe we will certainly exceed that based on the donations we have received so far. At the end of the drive, library staff will package the care baskets and deliver them to Pathlights.”

The care packages will be given to clients of the nonprofit organization who are returning home after being discharged from a hospital or skilled nursing facility, explained Alison Parker, resource development manager for Pathlights. “When Pathlights comes to their house when they are returning home, we’d bring them one of these kits as a welcome home gesture — something to make them feel good as they’re returning home.”

The collection drive directly helps support the organization’s purpose. “Our mission is essentially to help older adults remain in their homes,” Parker said. “By providing items like this, we’re able to help them be more happy and more successful in living at home and staying involved in the community.”

Parker said the organization averages about 35 new clients each month in the program, so people and organizations are asked to supply about 40 kits to allow for a full month using their donations. The kits should cost about $15 to allow for consistency among clients.

“We created the list of general items, and the idea with these kits is really that they’re less about what you desperately need as opposed to a feel good, a make you feel warm and cozy kind of a thing,” she explained. “One of the things we’re not asking for is incontinence supplies. I didn’t want to put that on the list necessarily because everyone is different sizes. These are items that are meant to welcome someone home.”

Suggested items include hand cream, lip balm, $5 Walgreen or CVS gift cards, adult coloring books, colored pencils, activity books such as word search or sudoku, stamps, note cards and envelopes, fidget toys, socks, blankets and stress balls, according to a flyer the library created.

Having the items packaged in a bag instead of a basket makes storage easier. “It depends on what the organization doing the fundraiser or drive wants to do,” she said.

Parker is excited by the response to the care kits. “It’s actually a program we recently launched, so I’ve had a couple other organizations donate care kits at this point. They are our third partner to be doing this with,” she said, adding that Horton Insurance in Orland Park was the first to provide kits.

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“It was something I came up with. I was looking for more ways to have potential partners get involved,” she explained. “People are always looking for ways to help and things to do and not always able to do a financial donation, so this was a good way for different community groups or businesses to do a team-building activity with their team, things like that.

“I thought we’ve got all those folks with needs. We could figure something else out as a way to help, so working with our program director, we decided to develop this program,” she added.

Pathlights also has a note card program “that essentially is notes of encouragement and things like that, that get delivered through our home-delivered meals program,” she said. “We’ve had different community groups as a service project write note cards.”

If anyone wants to be involved in either program, “we would welcome their interest,” she added. Contact Parker via email at aparker@pathlights.org or call 708-361-0219.

Parker couldn’t be happier about the collection drive and what it represents.

“Seniors in general are a very important part of a healthy, active and vibrant community, so the more we can support them, the better all of us in the community are,” she said. “I think it’s amazing when people can pull together to support one another.”

Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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