The Ministry of Health Overnight Bus offers festive cheer along with its usual maintenance

BACK OF THE YARDS — Despite the cold and pouring rain, dozens of neighbors lined up outside the Night Ministry Health Bus last week in Back of the Yards, seeking the nonprofit’s help and a little “holiday cheer.”

Workers and volunteers from the Health Outreach Bus distributed stockings and wrapped gifts to those seeking help from the Night Ministry, in addition to the health care, support services and other essentials it normally offers.

Night Ministry, a nonprofit organization offering housing support, health care and other services to people experiencing homelessness and poverty, has launched a mobile outreach program to provide basic medical care to people since the 1980s.

The Health Outreach Bus stops in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, South Shore, Pilsen and more, six days a week. You can find the bus schedule here.

On Thursday, people came out to the weekly bus stop at Back of the Yards — at the northwest corner of South Halsted Street and West 54th Place — to get stockings filled with things like winter gear, toiletries and snacks, or to be seen by Summer Kee, family and psychiatric nurse practitioner, for free health care.

Volunteers greeted neighbors as they arrived, handed out meals, hot chocolate and wrapped gifts for the children.

Delores Pau (left) picks up a gift for her grandchildren as The Night Ministry distributes stocking stuffers for those in need at 54th and Halsted Streets in Back-of-the-Yards on Dec. 21, 2023. credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Night Ministry distributed supplies to the needy at 54th and Halsted Street in Back-of-the-Yards on December 21, 2023. credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Lonnie, one of the people who came on the bus, said he has been receiving services from Night Ministry for 10 years. He said he appreciates the extras in the holiday stocking, but added that the group supports him year-round.

“They’ve been great to me and a lot of people in the neighborhood,” he said. “The coat I’m wearing – they gave it to me a few weeks ago because all I had was a hood. And I had asked for a blanket and they gave me a sleeping bag that opens into a king size blanket. [They’ve] he was good to me for years and years.’

Neighbor Roger Thomas said he showed up on the bus for a little “celebration,” he told the Block Club.

“It’s so nice because a lot of us can’t afford to have a nice Christmas,” he said with a cup of hot chocolate and his new sock. “It shows us that we have people who care.”

David Wiwialowski, Director of Outreach and Health, said Night Ministry Outreach’s health mission is about connecting with as many people as possible, whether it’s the Outreach Bus program; their street medicine efforts, where they provide services directly to places where homeless Chicagoans may sleep or congregate; or their work on the CTA, engaging with people experiencing homelessness while using public transportation.

“Going to people and meeting them — human connection is one of our core core values,” Wywialowski said.

Roger Thomas picks up a stocking as The Night Ministry distributes stocking stuffers for those in need at 54th and Halsted Street in the Back-of-the-Yards on December 21, 2023. credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Night Ministry distributed supplies to the needy at 54th and Halsted Street in Back-of-the-Yards on December 21, 2023. credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Wywialowski said the week leading up to Christmas, they provide all of their regularly expected services with an added “festivity.”

“We’re putting different things that people can use, but in a decorative stocking,” he said. “It puts a smile on their faces.”

Fewer people tend to come to the weekly bus stops in the winter, but Wywialowski said between 50-100 people usually show up.

From July 2022 to June 2023, Health Outreach teams provided 2,350 free health assessments, treated 636 medical conditions that might otherwise have gone untreated, and prevented 661 emergency room visits by treating people where they are , according to data from the Night Ministry.


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