Carol Marshall stood in the middle of a dozen volunteers who in a moment became food servers.
Prepared food had just arrived for the Christmas dinner on Saturday at The Emmaus Community in Chicago Heights. The church served as a facility for South Suburban PADS, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter, on Christmas, offering hot meals, a comfortable environment and haircuts for the homeless. A buffet line of homemade turkey, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, and pies was set up, ready for service.
But with so many people who decided to spend their Christmas helping out at Emmaus, Marshall needed to find more tasks for them. Then it hit her. Those volunteers would literally serve Christmas dinner plates to the 65 guests seated at tables within Emmaus.
"I couldn't even guess how many volunteers we had with us today," Marshall said after instructing her team to "make sure everyone had a little bit of everything" from the buffet. Marshall worked as coordinator for the Christmas day event, and among her duties was finding tasks for the volunteers.
"All I can say is OMG, because they just came out in droves," Marshall said about the volunteer turnout. "I give it all to God because this is what Christmas is all about and this what our family is all about."
The Emmaus Community opened their doors between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Christmas day to people in need. A rec room was set up with tables and chairs facing a large screen TV tuned to the Chicago Bulls game, and movies were projected in the chapel hall. A barber and stylist were on hand for professional haircuts and treatments, and two full meals were served.
One man without family in the area said he was working in a warehouse in Matteson, but was recently laid off and had nowhere to go. He said he's been to other South Suburban PADS facilities before to look for work and update his resume. PADS places volunteers and services with area houses of worship to create living and support facilities for the homeless.
"The hospitality is great," he said. "When times are down, it's nice to be able to have somewhere to go to eat and tool back up."
All of the food was prepared by congregants from the Couriers for Christ church in Matteson. The Rev. Henry Roberts said it was the fourth year members of his church prepared food in their own homes for others on Christmas. Roberts came to Emmaus with his granddaughter in the hope of showing her Christmas is not just about presents.
"She wants to open her gifts, and she can't just yet," Roberts said during the dinner. "But she realizes that it's important for her to come and do this."
Joanne Thomas, a Hyde Park resident who has volunteered every Christmas for the last 10 years, said she does it out of gratitude.
"I'm grateful because I know it could be me," Thomas said. "It doesn't take much time out of the day. You just have to plan it like anything else."
Carla Porter-White, a member of Emmaus from Homewood, said she wanted to volunteer for a while but hadn't taken the next step. She jumped at the chance to help on Christmas, when she found out just after recently joining Emmaus that the church would provide a PADS facility.
"We're supposed to give," she said. "That's really what this day is about. In my mind I knew I should've done it a long time ago."
Colbert Johnson, or C.J. as he is also known, spent the day cutting and styling the hair of dozens of guests. Johnson said it relaxes him to help those less fortunate than himself, so spending the holiday cutting hair isn't a big sacrifice. And he enjoys seeing people smile after they get their hair cut.
"I was blessed with so much that this just feels right," Johnson said.
A man in Johnson's chair smiled as Johnson evened out the hair near his forehead.
"When he gets done, I'll be looking real good," the man said. "And I'm feeling better already."