Pastors hit road to support shelter, bridging rural and urban concerns
It’s a 25-minute drive through Illinois farmland to get from the city of Kankakee to the village of Grant Park. Or about six hours on foot, as two local pastors recently learned.
Between them, the Revs. Kyle Timmons and Cory Estby ran and walked the 19.8-mile distance March 20 to benefit homeless people. They brought in just over $8,500 in gifts and pledges. The money will go to help a shelter, currently based in a Kankakee church, build a place of its own.
It’s an example of how people — and churches — in rural towns like Grant Park have embraced the work of Fortitude Community Outreach, situated in their more-urban county seat.
“Honestly, the two communities, in my opinion, are complete opposites,” said Timmons, pastor of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Grant Park. The city of Kankakee is a hub of business, transport and government. Half of its 26,000 residents are white; 41 percent are Black. Grant Park, population 1,400, is typical of the county’s rural towns. It is 99-percent white.
But the shelter is one thing they all have in common.
“Grant Park doesn’t have a homeless problem — maybe one or two individuals — but supporting Fortitude helps our community as well,” he said. “Our local police and leaders know that if they run across someone needing help, they can direct them to Fortitude. We believe we are all working together to help serve those who are less privileged than we are.”
St. Peter’s and its Grant Park neighbor, Zion Lutheran Church, both support the shelter. Fortitude’s regular volunteers include Estby, Zion’s pastor, and two members of St. Peter’s, Heidi Frahm and Jaden Ewoldt. And the two ministers’ recent “Miles for a Mission” event was the second time the congregations had joined forces to raise money for the cause.
In 2021, in conjunction with Fortitude’s annual “Night on the Streets” event, they set up a friendly competition to see which of the two could raise the most money. The “loser” would serve ice cream to the winning church. Between them, they exceeded their $10,000 goal — and decided to drop the winner-loser bet. “What actually happened was that we both teamed up and served free ice cream to the community of Grant Park as a thank-you for their support,” Timmons said.
For this year’s fundraiser, Timmons and Estby started weeks in advance raising pledges and donations via check, cash and online. The gifts would go toward Fortitude’s $550,000 capital campaign for a new building. When the big Sunday afternoon came, they started off running and walking together, from Fortitude’s future site. Later they took turns in segments — one on foot, the other driving a safety vehicle that was following them.
There was some discomfort involved. “Cramping was terrible while trying to drive a car and then get out and walk,” Timmons said. “So we adapted.” Estby’s son, Gabriel, took over the driving so the resting pastor could stretch out in a passenger seat.
Gifts continued to come in that day. By the time they got to Grant Park, night had fallen — and they had exceeded their $5,000 goal by $3,500.
Small town, ‘huge difference’
Larger gifts, like a recent $70,000 donation from another church’s endowment, have helped get the campaign $300,000 of the way toward its goal, said Dawn Broers, Fortitude’s founder and executive director. But so have gifts of all kinds — like those the two pastors raised on the road. And fundraisers like that one bring visibility to the project. It was important enough to Broers that she drove out to catch them, en route, in a Facebook Live post.
“These are just two of the sweetest guys,” she later told the Kankakee Daily Journal. “They are very generous. They were willing to take on this challenge for the homeless. We are truly blessed to have them in our corner.”
Timmons said he hopes “Miles for a Mission” — and the two churches’ ongoing work with the shelter — will encourage other churches to do likewise, wherever they are.
“Find a mission, a project, and support it,” he said. “Even the smallest of churches and towns can make a huge difference. It’s not about self-glory, our churches being noticed, but about the awareness that our purpose on this earth is to love God and to love our neighbor.”
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