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Shelter at First UMC in Elgin warms bodies and hearts

Posted: January 2 2024 at 02:00 PM
Author: Lisa Smith, UMCNIC Communications Specialist

Elgin First Beds

Fellowship Hall at First UMC in Elgin is ready for guests.

Elgin’s unhoused people are being well taken care of by the community, including First United Methodist Church in Elgin.  

This winter, the fellowship hall of FUMCE is set up nightly for their guests. One Collective Elgin, a nonprofit that identifies community needs and organizes collaborative responses, oversees and facilitates the shelter. It provides services to address immediate needs, such as counseling, therapy, and case management to help people to successfully move out of homelessness. 

“The biggest goal of One Collective is making sure everyone has access to food, freedom, and forgiveness,” says Bobby Jackson, an OCE catalyst (coordinator).  

While the local PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) helps many of the unhoused, it is not able to accommodate all who need it. The FUMCE warming shelter can house around 60 adults and has been near or at capacity since it opened. 

For the past two years, FUMCE partnered with New Life Community Church to provide an emergency warming shelter for unhoused folks in Elgin on nights when the temperature sinks to 15 degrees or colder. This had worked out well, but the churches found it hard to coordinate volunteers and let guests know when the shelter was open, given the unpredictability of weather.  

The City of Elgin approved FUMCE and OCE’s request to keep a shelter open every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Dec. 1, 2023, through March 31, 2024. Elgin’s assistant city manager, fire marshal, and police department check in with the church to make sure they have everything they need. 

“We have very good support from our community—other churches, the city, public services, everyone,” says Rev. Felecia LaBoy, FUMCE’s pastor. “The church is proud of the work they are doing. The world isn’t looking to hear a sermon, they are looking to see one.” 

Winter Warm Jonathan Francisca 8i4rqi28doi Unsplash

An ongoing priority 

While the collaboration with OCE is new for the 2023-24 winter season, taking care of unhoused neighbors is a long-standing commitment of the congregation. The church was instrumental in starting the area PADS and Soup Kettle nightly meal program. This was prompted by the unfortunate deaths about 10 years ago of many unhoused people in Elgin. FUMCE’s pastor at the time, Rev. Robert Sathuri, and member Jeff Small were enraged by this news and determined to open the church to unhoused people.  

The Soup Kettle, which has been feeding the church’s neighbors for many years. The downtown churches each have taken a night to serve anyone who needs a meal, no questions asked. Monday night is FUMCE’s night to serve .

Nancy Kefauver and Jeff Benchley, FUMCE members,  are instrumental in the ministry. They aim to make the diners feel like guests in their home. Usually, the ministry serves 80 each night. It also offers to-go meals (some of which the guests eat the following day). Northern Illinois Food Bank provides the food. 

“At FUMC Elgin, we know that our strength in the community is to care for and love unconditionally our community,” says Carol Phillips, co-chair of the FUMCE Governance Board. “Imagine the comfort of our shelter guests knowing that they have a safe place to rest their heads at night. We are truly blessed to be able to partner with the city to make this a reality.”  

Ways to help the Warming Shelter



  • Financial gifts - click here.
  • In-Kind Donations (fill out the form here)
    • Bottled water 
    • Socks 
    • Underwear 
    • Gloves 
    • Warm beanies 
    • Handwarmers 
    • Feminine products 
      • Pads 
      • Tampons 
      • Liners 
      • Baby wipes in snack Ziplock bags 
    • Face cleansing wipes 
    • Lip balm 
    • Facial tissues 
    • Disinfecting wipes 
    • Ground coffee (decaf and regular)
    • Sleepy time tea bags 
    • Zip lock bags (quart and gallon) 

Volunteers wanted 

The warming shelter requires four or five volunteers a night. Team members work one of three shifts (6:30 to 11 p.m., 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., or 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.). Volunteers assist with check-in/check-out, implement shelter guidelines, check on guests, and clean.  

Volunteers may also serve as shift leaders. Shift leaders are trained in de-escalation, overdose treatment, and other safety issues. Volunteers need to be 18 years old and submit to a background check. A background check will not prevent people from volunteering, but it gives the team an understanding of the volunteer’s past experiences. To volunteer, sign up here.  

“Although we are in our first month, it’s evident that this is meeting a huge need in the community,” says Alex Madrid, casework collaboration coordinator for OCE. “Some of the biggest needs are recruiting volunteers, especially volunteers willing to help out on the overnight shift.” 

Madrid also suggests that churches might organize volunteers in a “mission-trip” to the center. Teams from churches or colleges could commit a week (probably Sunday to Sunday, with days free) to serving in the volunteer roles. Interested groups should contact Rev. LaBoy at  

Donations are also a great support. Financial gifts can be submitted here. The center also needs in-kind donations, such as bottled water and hygiene and warmth items for the guests. A full list is available in the box to the right.

OCE also encourages people to consider walking in the Coldest Night of the Year 5K on Feb. 24. This is family-friendly fundraiser supports local charities that assist people who are experiencing hurt, hunger, and homelessness. Find more information here

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