Instead of “helping the homeless” by handing out sandwiches or coins from her pocket, Lindsay Gerhardt wanted to do more. At age 25, she started her own nonprofit organization to help the homeless.
Gerhardt, a 2013 graduate of Northern Illinois University, is the founder and president of Humans for Hope and her aunt Jan Gerhardt of DeKalb is the secretary and the donation coordinator.
Lindsay started Humans for Hope in December 2016 by collecting items and distributing them to homeless people in Chicago.
Every Sunday, Lindsay, Jan and volunteers distribute items to as many as 200 homeless people in a six-block area in the South Loop. On Sunday evenings, they help with a community meal at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 Michigan Ave. in Chicago, and give items to more than 100 people.
Lindsay is working to make the organization a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. She also plans to offer classes, such as computer skills, meditation and yoga, and interview training. Another goal is to focus on helping the homeless community in DeKalb.
MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton met with Lindsay and Jan Gerhardt to discuss Humans for Hope, items they collect for donation and their plans and goals for the future.
Milton: Tell me how the organization started.
Lindsay Gerhardt: I started Humans for Hope in December 2016. I was working with a social services organization that was working with the homeless population and I was fed up with multiple things in the system. My degrees are in psychology and social work. I volunteered at local organizations throughout college and I wanted to help and do more. … I wanted to do more for them, even if I don’t have much myself. One day, I asked my family members and friends to help collect items. Now Humans for Hope has grown to what it is now, but it’s not even close to what it can be.
Milton: How did you first get involved?
Jan Gerhardt: I started by making blankets. The organization had already been active for a couple of months, I started September 2017. That’s when I went on one of the gives. If you go once, you’re hooked. I started just by making blankets, then I made custom blankets. Now I coordinate the donations, I don’t have time to make the blankets anymore. I actually retired from my job to do this full time.
Milton: Are you currently collecting items?
Lindsay Gerhardt: We’re collecting multiple types of donations of items, which we can pick up in the area. We try to collect items and go by what is needed. Clothing and hygiene items are always needed, but we found there’s an extreme need for medical items.
Milton: What are examples of medical items needed?
Lindsay Gerhardt: Medical items are things like Band-Aids, gauze, hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, wraps, hydrocortisone, rubbing alcohol, muscle rubs like Icy Hot, fungal cream, lotions for rashes and dry skin and Vaseline. They always need toilet paper and baby wipes.
Milton: Where do you distribute the items?
Lindsay Gerhardt: We have our distributions, which we call gives, in Chicago in the South Loop area. Our street outreach is a six-block area, from State Street between Congress Parkway and Lake Street, including Waubash and Clark Street. DeKalb also has a homeless population and we’re working to focus on the DeKalb area as well.
Milton: How do you distribute the items?
Lindsay Gerhardt: We have two different events. Our street outreach is during the day on Sundays from 3 to 6:30 p.m. That’s when we talk to individuals and give out supplies they need. Our second is at 7 p.m. at the Second Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue off of the South Loop. A group at the church, Community Table, allows us to use their space. They put together a hot buffet dinner and our tables are in the back. We give out the same items as earlier in the day, but we have a chance to converse with people, sit and chat over food. It’s so much more than a soup kitchen. Everyone looks forward to the event every Sunday.
Milton: Why is it important for you to meet and spend time with the people you help?
Jan Gerhardt: It’s important that we talk to the people that need the items and see what they really need. Right now, they need blankets, sleeping bags and shoes, especially boots. We never get a lot of donations of boots. We do take used items, but they should be clean with no rips, stains or holes. Items should be slightly used or new. One of our major needs are men’s jeans. We post a wish list on our Facebook page weekly. All people have to do is message me, and I’ll come pick up the items.
Milton: Why was it important for you to start the organization?
Lindsay Gerhardt: I started the organization to help end the stigma of homelessness and educate the community. By hosting outreach events, I want to challenge how people think of homelessness. I want them to help the rest of the society understand what homelessness is and bring advocacy to the individuals out there. The stories I hear are unbelievable. Some people are not being seen or heard because of their status, and I want to make sure that they have a voice.
Milton: What do you like most about helping the homeless?
Jan Gerhardt: Lindsay’s my biggest influence. By getting involved with her organization, it’s opened my eyes to a whole different world. I love helping out on Sundays, I call everyone there my Sunday family and everyone calls me Aunt Jan. On Sunday, I forget about all my problems Monday through Saturday. I think of them, of how little they have and how much I have. It’s why I want to help, why I help.