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Elgin's homeless raise money for those worse off in Haiti
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Levi Oury, 31, is living at the Elgin PADS shelter and volunteered Sunday during the "Eat Your Heart Out: Elgin Homeless Bring Hope for Haiti" brunch fundraiser.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

Levi Oury, 31, is living at the Elgin PADS shelter and volunteers Sunday during the "Eat Your Heart Out: Elgin Homeless Bring Hope for Haiti" brunch fundraiser.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/1/2010 12:01 AM

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Unlike many people, Levi Oury did not write a check or send a text message to help the people in Haiti after a devastating earthquake in early January. It is not that he did not want to. The 31-year-old Elgin native was just as moved by the images coming back from the impoverished nation as others.

But having lived in a homeless shelter run by Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS, for several months, Oury does not exactly have extra money to give.

On Sunday, however, Oury got his chance to give back as he served meals during a pancake brunch at the Douglas L. Hoeft Resource Center in Elgin.

"You're so close to that situation," he said. "You're grateful for what little you do have. You can relate to what they are going through."

Volunteers and community members paid $10 for the meals and all proceeds will go toward Rotary Club Elgin's Shelter Boxes for Haiti program. The program will send shelter boxes equipped with tents, pots and pans, and water filters, among other things, to the country. On Jan. 12, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, which was already considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many live without the amenities offered at PADS, including running water and the most basic of needs.

"I have everything I need," Oury said. "But there are people in Haiti who have a rougher situation than we do. There are a lot of people a lot worse off than I am."

Oury's life spiraled downward when the grandfather who raised him as a boy and continued to support him as an adult died in 2006. Soon, after being kicked out of a friend's house, he found himself wondering where he could carve out a spot to sleep or whether he should pickpocket to survive. But then a friend told him about PADS and he began his stay in August.

"It was rough," he said. "It was a whole new train of thought."

Oury offered his help immediately when shelter officials sought volunteers to serve brunch and raise money for the people of Haiti in early February. Then, the shelter's Executive Director Dennis Atwitt contacted the Rotary Club about its program.

Rotary President and Elgin City Council Member Mike Warren said the club has raised enough money to provide 16 of the shelter boxes and the PADS contribution will add to that.

He said the example the guests of the shelter set, despite being challenged financially, has been impressive.

"It has been heartwarming," he said. "It's really humbling. Folks in the rotary club, they have means. But some in the community do not. They're challenged financially but they understand they have more than some people."

Special Projects Coordinator Brittany Mitchell said she thinks the pancake breakfast is evidence that even those accustomed to receiving help will offer it when they can.

"We are really grateful that we have people here who care and it shows everybody's human and cares about other people," she said. "The homeless are no different."

While Oury prefers the term "residentially challenged," he said it was not hard to volunteer to help out at the meal.

PADS has helped him secure a part-time job and he continues to save money. He regularly meets with case workers at the shelter and hopes to return to school soon.

"Some people, they make a couple of wrong moves, and they find themselves in this position," Oury said. "Nobody plans for this to happen."