Last December, a veteran who was living in a tent near Abbott Park on Route 137 and Waukegan Road in North Chicago came to Midwest Veterans Closet looking for a sleeping bag. Founder and President Mary Carmody realized he was living outdoors.
“So we rescued him from the woods and talked him into going to the VA Homeless Shelter and assisted him with a job interview,” said Carmody.
Later, when Midwest Veterans Closet received a car donation, she gave it to the same man, because he worked so hard to turn his life around, she said. All of this was accomplished with a staff of two: Carmody and Carrie Price.
Carmody explained that some people donate a pair of shoes or two shirts and others bring a whole house full of furniture because they’re moving or downsizing, and they want veterans of the U.S. military to have their things. Veterans are often shopping right out of the donor’s delivery trucks.
“It’s sad that veterans are reduced to that after what they’ve given to our country and our freedom,” she said.
Carmody said that until recently it wasn’t unusual to totally furnish two or three apartments a week, but now Midwest Veterans Closet won’t be able to offer furniture because the organization no longer has storage space. In August, it lost its warehouse at 2323 Green Bay Road, North Chicago, and it has been reduced to storing things in a pod that takes up one parking space in the same lot.
“The veterans would tell us it was a pleasure to go home now, because they had furniture and a bed to sleep on. We’re really sad about losing our warehouse,” said Carmody while fighting the tears.
Carmody said the pod is too small to store furniture, but it’s used to sort through bags and boxes of clothing and housewares. Once it gets colder, volunteers will no longer be able to work out there.
Midwest Veterans Closet is entering its fourth year by surviving on small private donations, as the organization has been turned down for major grants.
Carmody explained how an act of kindness turned things around for Midwest Veterans Closet in 2015 when the Deerfield Pee-Wee Football Team selected it as the team’s charity for the Thanksgiving Turkey Ball.
“Each child brought a shopping bag full of food, and some children brought new small kitchen appliances. And that’s how our food pantry started,” she said. “I knew if we could just get that boost we could keep going, and we’ve been going strong ever since, as people have been donating whatever they could.”
Carmody said the Food and Nutrition Resource Center is so much more than a food pantry. “It’s extremely busy serving a lot of active military, and most of the time their children tell us that they don’t have food.”
Carmody announced that Barb Karacic recently became the manager/director of the Food and Nutrition Resource Center, because of her vast experience managing the Holy Family Food Pantry in Waukegan.
Carmody added that one out of four veterans is hungry.
“Because we were the rapid response organization, when veterans came to Midwest Veterans Closet, they left with clothing, food, furniture, housewares, and a resume – not with a paper brochure to go here or there, or whatever assistance they needed,” she said.
Carmody hopes Midwest Veterans Closet, which assists military from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, will find a way to continue providing these services.
“I’m a civilian and I never imagined that the military has the need that they do,” she said.
In addition to the warehouse, the main building is for sale too. Midwest Veterans Closet is working to raise funds to either buy the building or pay rent to whoever else buys it.
“Right now we need money,” she said. “People are very generous, and they know that when they donate to the Midwest Veterans Closet that the military is getting their donations. Our building is for sale and we hope to be able to purchase it, so we could expand services, and hopefully provide jobs so that we could sustain ourselves.”
Carmody is empathetic to veterans in need, as her mother came to America with nothing after she escaped from Yugoslavia.
“This is a way that I can pay back for the life that we have although we were very poor,” said Carmody. “My parents worked so hard for us, but I know what these people go through. I remember eating saltine crackers with a little butter for dinner and on a good day we might have some jelly to put on it.”
She added, “I’m just happy that we could help them. I’ve seen grown men cry over getting a new pair of underwear and a winter coat.”
Midwest Veterans Closet is located at 2323 Green Bay Road, North Chicago near the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Healthcare Center and Naval Station Great Lakes. For more information visit: http://www.midwestveteranscloset.org/