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Daily Journal
     August 3, 2022      #43-215 KDJ
Volunteers working in ACOM's food pantry are, from left front, Bridget Bertrand-Essington, Bill Hertz, Judy Nikodem, Ruthann Pinnow and Leland Becker; right from front, Mary Hertz, Jill Graveline, Kathy Marcotte, Kim Yohnka and Tom Marcotte.

Daily Journal/Phil Angelo

ACOM in Kankakee offers programs for those in need

Phil Angelo | For the Journal

KANKAKEE — It is the nonprofit agency most have not heard of.

ACOM is the Agape Community Outreach Mission, which operates programs in four different Kankakee and Bradley churches and is an independent agency serving people of all faiths.

Fueled by volunteers, donations and grants, ACOM operates a children’s clothing exchange, a food pantry and other programs designed to fight homelessness and poverty.

The churches that house and support the programs are: Asbury United Methodist, Trinity United Methodist and St. John United Church of Christ in Kankakee; and Bradley Evangelical United Methodist. The office is at Asbury, 196 S. Harrison Ave., Kankakee.

Debbie Dodt, the executive director of ACOM, estimates the agency helps as many as 5,000 people. She’s in her ninth year at ACOM, having previously served with other charitable groups, including senior services at Catholic Charities, the Indianapolis Senior Center and Girl Scouts.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Indiana and a master’s in rehabilitation of the blind from Western Michigan.

Although she directs ACOM, her work is only the equivalent of a part-time position. It operates on a budget of $94,000 and has only one other employee — a part-timer. There is a seven-person board.

ACOM is similar to Jack and the Beanstalk: a modest handful of material has turned into big results.

“Anyone who walks in our door gets served,” Dodt said. “We are driven by client need.”

One of the strengths of the group, she said, is it is not a government agency and has no government funds.

“There are not rules and regulations,” she said, adding ACOM does work other agencies do not do.

Yet, Dodt said, ACOM has not communicated its work well. It has no signature fundraiser, no high-profile single mission to one audience. It is also a strictly local program, with no national parent. Instead, ACOM does a lot of things well, in several locations.

ACOM programs include:

• Interfaith Kids’ Closet, a children’s clothing exchange designed to serve youths up to the age of 18. It was originally a program of Church Women United. ACOM has operated it since 2017. The closet is located at Bradley Evangelical United Methodist Church, 600 W. Broadway.

Dodt said it is an ideal place to turn in the clothes your children have outgrown. Visitors are welcome to get clothes even if they don’t have anything to turn in. There is a special section with uniforms from the Kankakee School District.

Clothing is always needed, but material turned in should be clean and in good shape. It is best to come from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Other times, it’s requested to call ahead of time at 815-304-4990.

• Merchant Street Food Pantry is located at Asbury United Methodist Church in downtown Kankakee. A vast floor is filled with material, with everything from produce to pre-packaged cereal. Donations come from individuals, stores and restaurants.

The best time to come is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. The pantry has a selection of “Street food,” for those with no kitchen facilities. Street food is defined as groceries that neither need to be refrigerated nor cooked. The pantry has been open since 2014. Dodt estimates it serves 150 to 160 families per week. Dodt emphasizes no one is turned away hungry.

• Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event that serves as a sort of summit meeting for all area agencies serving the homeless. More than 40 agencies, some from the government and many that are charitable, participate.

This project has been interrupted by COVID and last was held in 2019. Services also are offered to the public. Health screenings are available and persons learn which agencies might be able to meet their particular need.

• Walk the Talk is a case management program. Individuals get help obtaining identity documents and gain an understanding of what help is available and how to apply for it.

ACOM sees 25 to 30 people per week in this program. In some emergencies, a small amount of direct aid might be available, such as a token to use the River Valley Metro Bus.

• Agape Mission House is a facility owned by St. John United Church of Christ. This single-family house is almost always occupied by a homeless family with children. The family stays for three to four months as they solve the problems that caused their homelessness.

• Getting Ahead is a group discussion session held during a 16-week period. There is a curriculum, and the sessions are moderated. It is meant to allow people to learn from each other.

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