When the folks behind fashion brand J. Jill approached me to host their downtown Chicago compassion fund styling event, I knew it was going to be a special day and I’d meet some special ladies, but I had no idea what to expect. I had an idea of what clothing items they needed and what I could do for them, but the actual experience itself was a beautiful revelation. Here I am with the group of amazing ladies from Sarah’s Circle! Can you see me all the way at the back?
Here I am with just two of the ladies. We worked together to put together a head to toe style for their occasion of choice – J. Jill provided everything from winter coats and sweaters to jewelry, tights and socks!
Together with stylists from J. Jill stores throughout Chicago and Chicagoland, we made sure every lady had hands on attention and got her needs tended to. There was warm, DELICIOUS tea by Teavana (the white chocolate peppermint rooibos is SO GOOD), food catered by Panera Bread, and ladies from H2O Plus were on hand, giving hand scrubs and mini massages. There were lots of hugs, and happy tears were shed. And there was a lot of posing and oohing and aahing. SO much fun!
All photos used with the express permission of Sarah’s Circle.
One of the ladies described the experience of the J.Jill party as like being “queen for the day”. She said her favorite part was “…the catering, they catered to me. They made special efforts to pamper women, like me, that were in a shelter. It was as if someone really cared about us women. It was like my day…and it was free!” That’s EXACTLY what we wanted to do and how we wanted to make them feel. Basically the whole experience was AWESOME.
I really had the chance to talk with each of the ladies, and get a greater understanding of their needs. It occurred to me that the way so many of us think of “helping the homeless” isn’t necessarily helping as much as we think it is. Of course donations of money and products are needed and appreciated, but it goes beyond that. We can really do a lot to restore someone’s humanity just by the way we interact with them. Elizabeth Dunn, development manager for Sarah’s Circle, broke it down even more.
“Volunteering, donating toiletries, and contributing financially at any level all help to make services at Sarah’s Circle a reality. Even if someone can’t take time or money out of their day to contribute to an organization, acknowledging someone and treating her with respect can make all the difference in her day. For the women at the J.Jill Style Party, the tears of joy didn’t come from just receiving new clothing, the joy came from having the individualized attention from the stylists who treated them as whole women, beautiful inside and out, who are more than their current circumstances.”
It’s one thing for an official representative to tell me, but I really wanted to hear from the women themselves who are living this life and going through these hard times. Other than give money, what can the average person do? I got some really honest answers.
Here’s how you can REALLY help a homeless woman, according to the women of Sarah’s Circle:
“Definitely treat people in a more caring manner. Be more sympathetic if you will. The material need is great, so whatever you can give is greatly needed.”
“(Give her) a place to stay.” Beverly
“Just support, she may be mentally drained. Don’t give them a hard time.” Kimberly
“Something to keep them motivated, like resources, or a fitness class.” Marianna
“A blessed hug, a place to lay her head.” Dorothy
“Donating food and other things to shelters. Make them a nice, clean place to be in.” Lillian
“Valued advice, or information to get them to the next point in their life.” Judy
“Treat me with respect.” Suhaira and Judy
“A mentorship program would really help. A sponsor like AA. Someone who can relate would make all the difference in the world.” Suhaira
“Tell them about a job lead that’s paying a livable wage.” Frances
Besides an actual place to live or a job, the overall message I’m getting is respect, support and resources. Eye contact and friendly, regular conversation and genuine concern. Encouragement to help them get back on their feet. Caring and compassion.
Women’s shelters tend to need donations of new underwear, menstrual supplies and toiletries like soap, body wash, toothpaste and lotion.
If you need support or know a woman in Chicago in need of support, even if she isn’t yet homeless, you can refer her to Sarah’s Circle. In addition to a 50-bed interim housing program for women who are currently homeless, they have a Daytime Support Center that is open to any woman in need.
Thank you to J. Jill and Sarah’s Circle for inviting me to participate in such an enriching and important experience!