The streets of Chicago are bustling with holiday shoppers looking for post-holiday sales. Business men and women make their way down the streets looking for somewhere quick to eat during their break, dressed in their expensive-looking blazers and sport coats while talking excitedly on the newest iPhone model. Tourists line up under the historic buildings and well-known skyscrapers to take the perfect picture of their trip to the third-largest city in the United States.
But despite all the hustle and bustle and overly crowded streets, the homeless man or woman on the corner still goes unnoticed – unattended – as hundreds of people pass by, despite hearing the sound of loose change being shaken in the old McDonald’s soda cup.
In 2015, Cassie Quick, a current junior at the University of Dayton decided to take a stand against that and make a difference for the homeless men and women within the city of Chicago as well as the surrounding area.
“I think I always grew up having parents and grandparents who taught me that love and caring for others is a truly powerful thing for both you and the other person,” she says. “Anyone who knows me knows I struggle going to the city. Every homeless person I see I want to give them money. It’s very unrealistic that I have enough cash or change to do that on me, and to be honest I always felt so bad.”
Cassie says she came up with the idea for The Care Package Project one night after brainstorming a few ideas on how to fix the issue she saw. The decided idea involves packing drawstring bags with items such as non-perishable foods, toiletries, and cold weather clothing items to help keep the homeless men and women warm in the brutal winter months of Chicago.
After raising more than $2,000 very quickly in 2015, Cassie expanded the project from what she had originally intended and decided to get supplies to fill over 100 bags. She was also gifted with donations of the supplies she would need to put in the bag as well so more money could be spent on the more expensive items such as gloves and socks.
In year two, the success only grew. When Cassie announced the project once more, she was met with more donations, reaching her $500 goal in a little over a month. Two fraternities at the University of Dayton also contributed heavily to the donations of toiletries, allowing Cassie to spend the money raised on even more cold weather items such as blankets, hats, and scarves.
To help her pack the bags, Cassie gets the help of friends from her hometown. The first year, the 130 plus bags were packed in less than an hour; the 60 plus from the second year were packed in under fifteen minutes.
Soon after, those who helped pack the bags travel with Cassie and her family to Chicago to walk the streets with care packages hanging from their backs as they keep an eye out for the homeless men and women braving the cold. And as expected in such a large city, the task is not difficult. Almost immediately, bags are handed out and by the end of the day the girls who deliver the bags are met with gratitude, smiles, blessings, hugs, and tears.
“This year, the guy that [my friend] Sam gave one to was just beyond over joyed and almost made a scene basically because he was so unbelievably happy,” Cassie recalls as one of her favorite moments during the care package delivery day. “Or the guy last year that wanted to give his own change cup to us. It symbolized so much how people who have so little are willing to give so much.”
As the girls walk around with their care packages, they are often met with compliments from strangers they run into in the city. Many people look at the group of young-adults, speculating what they are doing and then become overjoyed when a girl hands a bag off to someone in need.
“You girls are truly amazing,” one woman said to the girls I walked with last year during the 2015 project. “You are really grasping what this time of year is all about.”
During the 2016 project, the group was met with more comments like this being called “Santas” as we carried around 36 red and green bags. (Leftover bags from both 2015 and 2016 were donated to homeless shelters.)
But despite the clear positive acknowledgement of what was being done, others still neglected to notice the men and women we helped as they were sitting along the street with their cardboard signs detailing their hardships or simply trying to give someone else a smile (and hopefully prompting that smile to donate some loose change).
“I think a big one was the guy sitting across from the Macy’s windows and no one took time to acknowledge his presence when he talked,” Cassie remembers. “They were all too busy with the windows. I wish I took a picture of it because I think it’s truly a sign of the times.”
There are plenty of people who still go around the city of Chicago, not bothering to stop their tasks for the day to drop some change into an old plastic cup pulled from a trashcan. But The Care Package Project is taking a step in the right direction, involving people from the community and making them aware of a problem that Cassie has wanted to fix for so long.
“The most special aspect [of the project] is the amount of people that touch one particular bag. We have individuals donating items, money donated, I buy things from companies who – whether they know it or not – have a hand in it, the people packing them, and the people distributing them…” the project’s founder points out. “That’s a lot of hands working on one bag. It’s just a blessing to watch it all come together through the help of so many people.
All photos belong to Cassie Quick