Baker Knows Importance of Giving PDF Print E-mail

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By Heidi Terry-Litchfield - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Larry Baker rides his bicycle near Saratoga Tower in Morris. Formerly homeless, Baker found a job, received his bicycle through a donation to We Care of Grundy County, and has since gotten an apartment of his own in the Tower. He is paying back the generosity he received by volunteering to help at the PADS shelters. (Herald Photo by Adam Nekola)

Larry Baker has had his share of luck – good and bad.

In 1966, he was in the Army and was told he'd be going to Vietnam. His orders changed, however, and then he broke his foot and never went.

"I guess I was lucky," Baker said.

After two years in the Army, Baker landed in New York state, between Rochester and Buffalo.

Later, he was taking a driving course to learn to be a truck driver and he met a man from Joliet who told him he'd have a better chance at finding work if he moved there.

Baker wanted to use the marine engineer training he received in the Army to become a merchant marine and work the barges.

He wasn't as lucky this time. He didn't have the money required to complete the training he needed to land the job.

Before long, he sold his home and was living in motels. He ran out of luck – and money – a year and a half later.

Baker then went to Daybreak Shelter and MorningStar Mission in Joliet.

"I became frustrated and I started walking and ended up in Morris, where I slept under the bridge," he said.

He said he stayed under the bridge for about a month, until his luck started looking up and he was able to move into a single room above one of the stores in downtown Morris.

Baker landed a job at McDonald's and was still walking everywhere he needed to go when We Care of Grundy County contacted him, saying they had received a donation of $100 for him to buy a bicycle.

"I had blisters on my feet from walking," he said.

He worked for four months at McDonald's, and then received word he was eligible for Social Security.

His luck was changing and opportunities were opening to him.

"With the bicycle, I was able to pay bills and get around," Baker said. "It was a good start on my turn around."

As he was headed out the door to go see about veteran benefits, he said, Denise Gaska, We Care's executive director, was coming in the door to find him.

Baker said she told him he would be able to move into Saratoga Tower, where his rent would be based on his income and his space would be larger.

"There are a lot of good people here," he said. "It encouraged me to get back to a good life again."

Having stayed in shelters, Baker knows the need for them, and quickly offered to fill in at the PADS shelters in Morris.

"I'm eventually going to be a fill in for the year," he said. "If someone is sick or their kids get sick, I'll go fill in for their spot."

He said it is important to him to give back.

"I want to give back some of the stuff people gave me," he said. "It's a way to feel better and it helps someone else out."

PADS opened its doors for the season Monday night at Peace Lutheran Church in Morris. That first night, it fed three men and two of them spent the night.

Sharon Schultz, volunteer coordinator, said two other men came early to the church and indicated they would be back, but did not return.

Todd Thomson, president of PADS, said there have been some changes to the church line up for this season of PADS, but they currently still have all seven nights covered.

“New Community Christian Church has a program on Sunday nights now that conflicts with their church being a PADS site,” Thomson said. “Their volunteers will still work Sunday night, but currently they will be at My Father's House of Prayer.”

He said there is a significant need of volunteers for Saturday night, which is also at My Father's House of Prayer.

“We have concern about Saturday night being able to stay open,” he said.

Thomson said that,  while the church has the room, it has a smaller congregation.

Schultz said it is hard to predict what the need will be this year, but as the liason for homeless children in schools, she sees signs the need will be greater this year.

“I received a phone call from a woman with children in the background asking about the overnight shelter,” Schultz said. “I went to the church to see if she showed up, but she did not.”

Last year, PADS served 38 different people, five of whom were kids, for a total of 504 nights of shelter.

It also serves dinner and breakfast to the guests, and sends them out the next morning with a sack lunch, so it is providing three meals a day.

PADS shelter nightly schedule:

Monday – Peace Lutheran Church

Tuesday – United Methodist Church

Wednesday – First Christian Church

Thursday – First Presbyterian Church

Friday – Immaculate Conception Meeting House

Saturday and Sunday – My Father's House of Prayer.

If your church or organization, or you as an individual or family, would like to volunteer for one of the four-to-five hour shifts, please contact Sharon Schultz at (815) 941-4194.