The jeans and flip-flops in the cubby are appreciated by the men and women who visit Lancaster County’s Mobile Shower Unit, but it’s the simple backpack that van designer and driver, Kevin Lilly, calls a life-saver. Every item in here can save a life, body and soul.
The first item he pulls out is a Bible. They need something to read out there so we make sure it’s something good. In the bottom of the backpack is a soft, fleece throw. Nestled between the Bible and the blanket are ~
a small flashlight
a rain poncho
a hygiene kit
a food kit
a body warmer and . . .
a whistle. A simple, aluminum, referee’s whistle on a lanyard. With most items it’s obvious how they save a life. With our days and nights getting colder, the body warmer and fleece throw are especially welcome.
But a whistle? While many of us rely on home security systems to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our belongings, when one doesn’t live in a permanent structure, the level of vulnerability rises significantly. The safety of the homeless rests in the whistle. Yells for help, even if the voice is strong, can sometimes get lost in background noise. But the shrill, metal blast of a whistle is hard to miss. Or ignore. It’s understood that when the blast is heard, someone is calling for attention. The whistle is so important, when one man lost his, he sought Kevin for a replacement.
Distributing the backpacks is one way of extending the ministry beyond the van. Kevin actively seeks out members of the homeless community. If he sees anyone who looks like they need a backpack, he gives them one. The recipient now has a compact, waterproof, portable bag with the means to keep warm, and have a basic sense of security. Because it’s not only about the whistle. When Kevin or those working with the homeless see the backpacks in the makeshift gathering spots, they open the door for further communication. They become a way to continue building a relationship.
Kevin is on the Board of LACH – Lancaster Coalition for the Homeless – and they are currently looking for a suitable place to use as a warming shelter for the coming winter. To contact Kevin firstname.lastname@example.org