Joshua Erkman stands up with a few other naval recruits who were sitting in Our Savior’s Lutheran Church’s sanctuary. They start singing as another of their fellow naval recruits plays a few familiar notes from “Stand By Me” on a nearby piano.
Minutes before, they were talking about how it’s a treat to be able to sit on a carpeted surface and talk, after spending two months in boot camp at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes.
“We’re so busy in training, we usually don’t have time for simple conversations,” said Erkman, 19, from Colorado. “That makes the kindness of these people here all the more meaningful.”
Erkman and about 45 other recruits spent Christmas Day at Our Savior’s in Burbank, watching movies, eating a home cooked meal and calling home to their families out of state.
It was the first time the naval recruits have spent time away from the Great Lakes naval base, since they began boot camp.
“It’s a continuous progression, but one that’s taught me much in a short time,” Erkman said, whose goal is to operate nuclear reactors on Navy vessels. “With 12 days before graduation, it really is nice to be here around people being so vibrant and hospitable.”
Our Savior’s is part of South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), a network of religious institutions that provide shelter facilities for the homeless. The church also provided for the naval recruits and the elderly on Christmas.
Together with Immanuel Lutheran Church, also in Burbank, and the Emmaus Community in Chicago Heights, the houses of worship opened their doors, cooked meals and stockpiled gifts for their guests.
Those who came to the churches left with clothing and toys for children, gift cards, bus passes and access to long distance calls for the naval recruits, most of whom are from out of state.
Our Savior’s has been holding a Christmas Day meal and rest day for 11 years.
“We fill up this room,” said Linda Seyller, pointing around Our Savior’s social hall. “The naval recruits are so appreciative they ask us if there’s a collection plate to give us money. We have to explain it’s our pleasure to do this for them. They are just so thrilled to be here.”
Seyller, who supervises the church’s PADS efforts, said she celebrates New Years’ with her family rather than Christmas.
“It’s not hard to give a day to this, both for people who need the warmth and the service people protecting our country,” said Marc Miller, a Posen firefighter who buses the cadets to and from the base. “And the seniors, making sure they have a great day. It comes from the heart. We’re not looking for thanks. We do it because we want to.”
At Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Burbank, the church hosted a breakfast for homeless families. Guests also had an opportunity to walk through a room filled with donated clothing to fill what they may be missing.
Toys were also available for children. Bus passes, gas cards, gift cards to restaurants, socks, underwear and other items were donated by Bradley Associates.
“They decided to forego a Christmas party and gifts to each other and consequently gave gifts to the homeless,” said Sandra Taeuber, who oversees the PADS efforts at Immanuel.
The Burbank church has served as a PADS shelter for the last six years. On Tuesdays, it serves as a shelter for women and children.
For Taeuber and other volunteers, helping out on Christmas is simply an example of answering a need.
“There were tears in the moms’ eyes when they saw the toys,” Taeuber said. “They didn’t have anything to give their children other than a few things from the dollar store. Every week when I come here God shows me more things to be thankful for.”