Warm someone’s day during this cold spell with donations to shelters

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The young girl’s words were prophetic; I just wasn’t paying much attention at the time.


The time was nearly 20 years ago when my wife, Annette, and I were taking a look at what would become our first house.


As we toured the basement, one of the owner’s two young daughters told me, “This is where we spend most of our time because it’s coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter.”


It was a telling remark, but, as I said, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Instead, I was wrapped up in the overall appearance of the Oak Lawn home: brick, three bedrooms, two bath, full basement with a ton of potential, nice backyard, two–car garage.


And, most importantly, it was in our price range. Six thousand dollars was all that stood between the initial asking and offering prices. We met in the middle and closed the deal around this time of year. We rented to the owner until spring so she could finish student teaching and we could honor our apartment lease.


We’ve done a lot of work to the house over the years, and I can’t imagine moving, but as I write this column from my home—in the midst of the year’s first cold snap—I sure am cold.


It’s nothing new. Happens any time the temperatures sink into the single digits. The reason is simple: the house is poorly insulated. I know this because when our bathrooms were remodeled, I got a first-hand look at what passed for “insulation” in the late 1940s, the era when my home was built.


Newspaper. Lots and lots of newspaper. Today, every new home is protected from the cold with thick layers of fiberglass insulation. It’s tough to imagine that builders once stuffed newspaper between the studs.


Over the years, we’ve installed a new boiler (we have hot water heat) and replaced the doors and windows, but the house remains less than toasty. I can still hear my father mumble, “It’s chilly in here” during time he lived with us.


The ultimate solution, I suppose, is to have insulation blown into the walls, but that seems expensive. And once the winter’s frigid weather passes, we sort of forget the fact that you could hang meat in our home.


It’s like anything else that’s not a life-threatening problem. You make the best of it. We plug in a space heater, add a blanket to the bed, keep out of the coldest parts of the house and try to be grateful for what we have.


That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past few days as I curse my drafty old house, to borrow a line from Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.’’


Cold or not, I do have a home to live in, two cars parked at the curb, a fridge full of food and a closet full of clothes. I go to work every day and even enjoy what I do for a living. No one in my immediate family suffers from serious illness. That’s plenty to help me realize that a cold house in not the end of the world.


After all, some folks live in unheated homes, dependent on space heaters, loads of blankets and winter clothing to get them through the night. Others don’t have a home and must live in their cars or make their way on the streets, risking frostbite or worse when the brutal Chicago winter kicks in.


PADS and other homeless shelters in our area do their best to help. Together We Cope, an excellent social service agency in Tinley Park, also serves in endless ways, including a foot pantry, financial assistance, clothing, back-to-school assistance and the adopt-a-child holiday program.


But what more could you and I be doing? Now’s the real time to ask. The fashionable time for these stories to appear is during the holidays, as various agencies, churches and community organizations strive to help the needy with meals, Christmas presents and other necessities.


But the need didn’t go away the day you took down your Christmas tree. People are still without work, struggling to make ends meet, in danger of losing their homes and so on.


It’s not that hard to lend a hand. There are plenty of food pantries in our area, including one run by the Evergreen Park, which provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to more than 160 families in the community. Call the pantry at 708-422-8776 for information of how to help.

In neighboring Oak Lawn, Pilgrim Faith Church runs a food pantry that serves Oak Lawn, Hometown, Worth, Burbank, Chicago Ridge and Alsip. Check out all the details about the pantry at


South Suburban PADS is always in need of volunteers and donations. Plenty of information can be found at


There are plenty of other food pantries, social service agencies as well as churches and community organizations that pitch in to help the needy. Catholic Charities and Red Cross come to mind. Pick one. Find a way to help. Make it a 2015 goal. You’ll be glad that you did.

Chicago Ridge apartment fire displaces 15 people

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Fire-3The first major calamity to hit the area in 2015 did not have any deaths or even injuries.


But it did produce devistation and hardship mixed in with some heartwarming moments courtesy of first responders on the scene.


About 16 hours after four apartment units were completely destroyed and several others severely damaged Monday night following a late-night fire in Chicago Ridge, an observer stood in the cold and suveyed the damage.


He wasn't just any observer. He said he was the father and grandfather of some of the people displaced from the fire. He marvelled at the "compassion" and "professionalim" of the Chicago Ridge Fire Department during the ordeal, which occured in snowy and freezing weather conditions.


"I saw a young boy running barefoot out of the building," he said. "And I saw a fireman take off his boots and placed the boy in them. I saw another fire fighter pick up and hug another child.


"My daughter lost everything in that fire but what are possession when you still have your daughter and grandkids still alive?''


Firefighters from several communities responded at 10:36 p.m. and required about an hour to extinguish the fire at the 18-unit complex in the 9800 block of Sayre Avenue, Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets said.


“There was heavy fire blowing out the back,” Sheets said.


He said an electrical malfunction in a second-story bedroom likely is the cause of the fire, which spread to the third floor and the attic, Sheets said.


The blaze displaced 15 people, but no one was injured, he said.


More than 70 firefighters from 13 departments ultimately were called to battle the blaze, a task made more difficult because of the severe weather conditions, Sheets said.


Some tenants returned Tuesday to gather personal belongings. Some put them in garbage bags.


While some residents had places to stay, others relied on the Red Cross for temporary shelter and clothing, Sheets said.





Mayors protest 'inflammatory' t-shirt sale at Richards, but D218 officials say it was small incident

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Two area mayors co-wrote a letter of protest when they found out "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts at Richards High School.


But the sale of the controversial t-shirts was never sanctioned at the Oak Lawn school, and the individual who recently attempted to hawk the controversial shirt in the school cafeteria during finals week was immediately escorted out of the building, District 218 officials said.


The unidentified individual, who is reportedly a Moraine Valley Community College student, might have sold two or three shirts before security removed him from the Oak Lawn school, said John Byrne, superintendent of

Community High School District 218.


Byrne’s explanation of the incident came after he and Richards principal John Hallberg received a letter from Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar protesting the sale of the shirt.


The slogan on the black t-shirt was inspired by the last words of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold.


Both Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and Chicago Bulls player Derrick Rose have worn the t-shirt during pregame warmups, prompting members of high school basketball teams to do the same.


In many instances, however, school administrators or tournament officials have prevented teams from wearing the shirts.


District 218 officials have prevented district teams from wearing the shirt because of its inflammatory nature, Byrne said.


Bury and Tokar agreed that the shirt casts an anti-police message that could potentially put officers in danger and conveyed that message in a letter to Byrne and Hallberg.


“It has been brought to our attention that Richards High School has approved the sale of “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts on its campus.  As you may know, the slogan has become the rally cry of violent anti-police protests nationwide, including the outright assassination of two police officers in New York,” the mayors wrote.


“We are writing to express our outrage at this decision and feel that the sale of anti-police/ pro-violence t-shirts should not be condoned on the campus of any area school.  Further, we feel the sale of these inflammatory t-shirts on Richards High School campus creates a climate that potentially can place our officers and communities in danger, and this is something we cannot be quiet about,” the letter said.


Byrne said a call from either mayor would have clarified the matter and obviated the need for a letter.


“I wish they would have just called me,” Byrne said.


He added that the school’s art department is working with students to create an alternate shirt that promotes unity. Byrne has not seen the final design for the shirt, he said. “We want this to be the kids' idea.”


Rumors circulated last week that some of the individuals involved in the melee at Chicago Ridge Mall were wearing the t-shirt.


The fracas was ignited by a fight in the mall food court and got out of hand when some mall patrons thought they heard gunshots fired. In fact, pots banged together by a food court restaurant worker attempting to disperse the crowd were mistaken for gunshots, police said.


Tokar described the t-shirt as “inflammatory.”


“Let’s not fuel the fire,” Bury added


Saturday night's all right at mall despite social media threats

  • Written by Bob Rakow

It was not a normal day at Chicago Ridge Mall on Saturday but there was no melee either.


Police from Chicago Ridge and several surrounding communities joined mall security to create a significant law enforcement presence in response to social media posts that called for a flash mob at the mall.


“They had a great presence,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.


The increased security came one week after a serious fight broke out in the mall’s food court and rumors quickly spread that shots had been fired.


Indeed, there was no gunfire and police said the brawl was not the result of a flash mob. Police from several jurisdictions descended on the shopping center and the mall was closed a few hours early.


The incident was serious enough that mall officials want to implement a youth escort policy.


The policy would be similar to one North Riverside Mall adopted in 2013.

Under that policy, after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, anyone under 17 years old is required to be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult, age 21 or over.

Chicago Ridge Mall officials have not yet ironed out the details of their proposed policy, but the goal is to eliminate unsupervised teens from wandering the shopping center, Chicago Ridge Police Chief Robert Pyznarski said.

Police on Saturday were stationed at all mall entrances as well as the parking lot, keeping an eye out for anyone who planned to respond to a social media post that called for stores to be robbed.


Tokar said a high-level of security would continue in the coming weeks.


“I don’t think you can do it last Saturday and forget it,” the mayor said.


While law enforcement made its presence felt at the mall, those who support police took a stand on Friday, tying blue ribbons to every light pole from Harlem Avenue to Pulaski Road on 95th Street.


Residents in Chicago Ridge and Worth also took part in the initiative last week.


“It was very important to me,” said Oak Lawn resident Jennifer Childs, who headed up the initiative.


Childs said only a handful of supporters responded when she first pitched the idea to some local Facebook groups. But more than 40 people turned out on Friday to help the cause.


“I was amazed,” Childs said. “It was a warm feeling. People brought their kids out. Couples came out.”


Each volunteer was given 16 ribbons, which were made from blue, plastics table clothes, and assigned a one block to place them on street poles. The four-mile stretch was completed within an hour, Childs said.


Childs said she promoted the “Tie One On” effort to support Oak Lawn police and let people know that residents support law enforcement.


“It’s important to me,” she said, adding that the incident at the mall demonstrated the lack of respect many people have for police.


“It’s just wrong,” she said. “We need to have someone to have our backs when something is wrong. We know the police department has our backs.”


Childs also dismissed criticism from some that politicians such as Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustees Tim Desmond and Terry Vorderer politicized the effort by getting involved.


“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said, adding that Bury donated 50 table clothes to the cause.



CR board not toying around with Spencer’s

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Chicago Ridge trustees Tuesday took a hard line stance with Spencer’s, agreeing to fine the Chicago Ridge Mall novelty store if it does not remove adult sex toys and videos from its shelves by the end of the week.


Spencer’s attorney Kevin Mahoney said the store would abide by the board’s edict, which trustees agreed to following a lengthy conversation about the issue.


Trustees in November unanimously approved an amendment to the village’s ordinance regarding adult book and video stores that required stores such as Spencer’s to place adult toys and videos in a section of the store restricted by doors or walls.


But village officials recently discovered that Spencer’s had not made the appropriate changes, continuing instead to display sex toys and other adult merchandise in the rear of the store in plain view of all customers.


Village officials are especially angry that the merchandise remains in view of teenagers who frequent the store.


Trustee John Lind said the display was inappropriate.


“The back wall (of Spencer’s) is embarrassing. You know it and I know it,” Lind told Mahoney. “I’m not prude. I’m far from it. To me, it’s real embarrassing. When I walked to the back of the store, I was amazed.”


Mahoney said the store did not immediately take steps to comply with the ordinance because he was not aware of the new regulations until Dec. 9, several weeks after the ordinance was passed.


“It’s not a matter that we’ve been ignoring it,” he said.


He said Spencer’s has devised a plan for the store that would include segregating the adult merchandise and monitoring the area to make sure children do not enter.


Trustees were willing to look at the plan, which Mahoney said would be ready by next week.


“We do take the matter very seriously,” said Mahoney, who added that sex toys make up 5 to 10 percent of the store’s total merchandise.


Mayor Chuck Tokar said he was not convinced that Spencer’s plan would meet the expectations outlined in the ordinance.


The decision to segregate the adult section came after a small group of residents told trustees that Spencer’s had a large number of sex toys displayed.