Through the night until past morning rush hour Wednesday, people left their vehicles at 14th and Court streets to come to Lisa Beyers’ aid.
The sign she held as she sat bundled against the deep cold outside First United Methodist Church misled them. “Homeless Awareness. Donations Accepted,” it read.
“They offered me a ride to the Salvation Army,” said Beyers, 34, of Pekin. “At least three people asked, ‘Hey, you OK? Do you need any food?’”
She was fine, she told them. She has a home, a fact she repeated to herself “so I could bear” what she called her crazy stunt.
After it ended, Beyers sat among its results, still bundled in layers of clothing topped by the snow pants, a ski mask and goggles that protected her through 16 hours.
Blankets, sleeping bags, socks, more clothing and $150 in cash from about 50 donors will go to a local couple who inspired her vigil to help the homeless.
“It was definitely a God-led thing,” Beyers added. “He was who inspired me.”
She knows Ryan and Elizabeth Blackwell, also of Pekin, and the homeless outreach work they do both in Pekin and Chicago.
“They fill up their mini-van with supplies, donations and (money) from their own pockets” and deliver them to charitable outlets helping people who virtually live on the street, even through winter, Beyers said.
A nanny and waitress by trade, Beyers said she’d been thinking of how she could help the couple in their work. During services at the church last Sunday, the idea of a vigil to collect donations struck her.
“It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” she said. “I knew I had the day off Wednesday. I just said, I gotta do this Tuesday.”
She conferred with and received permission from the Rev. Jim McClarey, First United’s pastor, bought some clothes for the ordeal and, at 5 p.m. Tuesday, grabbed a plastic chair from the church and went outside with her sign.
“I wanted to get out there so people could see me (while) driving home from work,” Beyers said. Proof that her strategy succeeded came with donors who told her they saw her and returned with items.
More donors were attracted by Facebook messages she posted through the night and others posted by a friend, who came to keep her company outside the church.
“Every four hours I went inside to use the facilities, but I kept it short,” she said. “I wanted to get the experience” of what a homeless person might endure through a bone-chilling night.
“I will say I have lots of layers on,” Beyers said, and she’s aware that shelters and other aid are available to those in true need.
“But, no matter what they might have (for help), they don’t have a home.”
She plans to hold more vigils in the future, but not right away, she said a half-hour after ending her first.
“My toes are still thawing out.”
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin