In The News

New ‘Mother Goose’ program helps struggling South Bend-area mothers

  • By Dakota Connell-Ledwon South Bend Tribune
  • Updated

John Shafer shows some of the baby products at Michiana Five for the Homeless' new Mother Goose program, which provides diapers to mothers in need. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ

SOUTH BEND — Instead of choosing between buying food and buying diapers for their children, mothers in need can now receive child care supplies as part of a new program.

Michiana Five for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization, started the “Mother Goose” program on April 1. It provides care packages filled with diapers, baby wipes and toiletries to women enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children program.

John Shafer, director of Michiana Five, got the idea for the Mother Goose program when he bought diapers for his niece who was struggling to provide for her child.

“I don’t have children, but I’m just observing the cost of how expensive it is to raise a child,” said Shafer. “I don’t know how (mothers) do it.”

The care packages are not meant to be a permanent solution, he said. In the first month, a mother can receive a case containing over 100 diapers. In the second month, she will receive half that amount. In the third month, mothers get a third of a case.

"We want to try to give them immediate assistance, but not something that is going to be ongoing," Shafer said.

While Michiana Five primarily caters to the homeless population, Shafer said the Mother Goose program is a preventive measure aimed at helping struggling mothers and families before they are in danger of becoming homeless. And, while the organization prefers that women be enrolled in WIC to receive a care package, it's not a requirement.

“We wanted to be able to give back to the community and help people who are spiraling so they don’t end up homeless,” Shafer said.

Shafer plans to run the program from April to September each year. After September, any leftover diaper supplies will be given to local women's shelters, and Michiana Five will begin collecting winter supplies like blankets, sleeping bags and coats.

"(After September) we'll be focusing all of our storage capacity on our winter needs for the homeless," Shafer said. "We need every bit of space for that."

Since the Mother Goose program began, only about five women have come in to Michiana Five's office to request a care package. Shafer believes that the program will be successful once word gets out.

For more information on the program, including how to receive a care package or donate supplies, call 574-607-3483.


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Editorial: John Shafer's sheer persistence resulting in shelter for youth

John Shafer didn’t give up and now there will be a shelter for young people in our community.
Posted on Jan. 13, 2016 at 3:00 a.m. (original article)

It started with John Shafer repeatedly saying Elkhart County needed a shelter for homeless youth.

It took some time for people to listen, and meanwhile he kept saying it.

In November, Bashor Children’s Home agreed to operate such a shelter for the first time in 40 or so years if the funding could be found.

On Thursday, Shafer was at a press conference wearing a “dream big” T-shirt, and Bashor CEO Don Phillips said the shelter would open by April 1 since the $130,000 in funding had been raised.

Over the last three years, Shafer has collected items locally and taken them to Chicago and to give to those on the streets. In 2012, he started Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless Inc. to reach out.

In this community, he’s sought out the people that society sometimes at best ignores and at worst disdains. Then he’s gone to public forums and settings and called for a place, a physical space, that would provide shelter.

He called a public meeting in July and the room was filled with those interested and willing to talk about the issue. He admitted that he didn’t know the cost or all the details. He just knew there was a need, and the closest shelter was in South Bend at Youth Services Bureau.

In July, he said, “We’re the first to admit, we’re just advocating because there’s a need,” Shafer said. “We have to admit we have no expertise, we are not going to be the organization running it. We have to rely on agencies ... who have worked with teens and juveniles and who have the expertise and staff and can employ the staff once the shelter is up and running.”

Bashor Children’s Home has expertise and resources. It has an excellent track record for its work with troubled young people.

The board approved the shelter for up to six teens to live in a vacant building on Bashor’s campus between Elkhart and Goshen. The money was raised. The shelter could open by April 1.

Estimates on the number of homeless teens vary from about 150 to 200. Shafer was the one who spoke out for them, who said the community wasn’t doing enough. Soon, there will be a shelter because of his doggedness, his willingness to speak out and advocate for a solution, even if he didn’t have all the pieces to put it together.

One man made a difference. One man wouldn’t let the issue go. It’s difficult to measure how big a difference one man can make, but what’s clear in this instance is how much Shafer’s efforts led to this shelter.

Now there will be one more resource in our community to help young people get support they need to potentially succeed.

Meeting planned to discuss creation of homeless youth shelter

Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2015 5:03 pm
By DENISE FEDOROW Correspondent


Anyone who’s ever talked to John Shafer of Nappanee knows that he’s passionate about helping the homeless. So passionate that he founded a non-profit organization Chicago & Michiana Five for the Homeless — the name comes from his thought that if everyone in Chicago would give $5 the homeless problem would be solved.

Now Shafer’s focus is on the homeless youth of Elkhart County and the need for a shelter and safe stations for them. To that end he’s been pulling all forces together to attend an informational meeting on July 15 at the Elkhart Salvation Army and has invited representatives from several municipal and charitable organizations, but he wants anyone with concern for homeless youth to attend.

His focus on a youth shelter came about because of the death of a homeless teen this past March.

“I became aware of a 16-year-old — Devin Borkowski — who was found dead in a vacant home in early March,” he said.

Borkowski was listed as a runaway and was missing 31 days. The results of an autopsy were undetermined as to cause of death, according to news reports.

Shafer met and spoke to Devin’s mom, Michelle Frost, who is devastated by the loss. Around the same time, he learned of five homeless youth runaways all staying in one room in a motel on Cassopolis Street. C&M Five for the Homeless paid for an additional eight-day stay, Shafer said, “hoping it would give them time to repair bridges and return home or to gain employment.”

Shafer said all but one found employment, but he’s since heard a couple have fallen back onto the streets.

Homeless youth are a different concern than homeless adults, according to Shafer.

“Because typically young people need guidance and structure and without it they eventually turn to stealing to get something to eat and get arrested,” he said.

Many of them also turn to drugs — using and selling — and turn to prostitution in order to survive and fill their needs. Some are forced into it by people they meet on the streets who offer them shelter.

“I don’t want any more 16-year-olds like Devin Borkowski wandering the streets,” he said.

Shafer said no matter the circumstances that led them to the streets — whether they ran away or were kicked out — they need a safe house and there currently is no such place in Elkhart County. Faith Mission is only for adults over 18 and Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network is for mothers and children.

As far as how many homeless teens Elkhart County has, Shafer admits it’s hard to get an exact number.

“They fly under the radar, keep to themselves and hang together,” he said. “When you see a young person on the streets you can’t usually define them as homeless, but we feel that as many as 200 are at large throughout the year.”

Shafer said that number is based on the number of youth they’ve encountered and talked to, as well as the numbers St. Joseph County has taken in through safe houses and the number of young people reported by the Elkhart Salvation Army who show up for free breakfasts.

“We feel even one is too many to be out on the streets trying to survive with no assistance, no protection and no shelter,” Shafer said.

When asked if he thought the youth would utilize such a shelter if one was available. He said he believed they would, but whether they did or not, there are currently no options.

“We want to provide an option for those youth out on the streets that don’t want to or can’t return home. We need to open our doors for the homeless youth so they don’t get involved in areas that harm them,” he said.

Shafer said many cities around us have safe houses and safe stations, even if it’s a sign at a McDonalds or a fire department, where they know they can go for help and where they’ll find trained adults who will call a local shelter. The shelter would pick the youth up so they can be safe and be provided guidance

“When a troubled teen is looking for help and sees a symbol like that it’s a huge welcome mat and gives him options and a bed for the night,” Shafer said.

Shafer said he’s been told that Youth Services Bureau of Elkhart and Bashor Homes of Goshen each had safe houses but they were closed due to funding issues. He said there are different sets of legal issues when dealing with youth that some may shy away from but both these organizations have done it before. He feels that once such a shelter is open it would need financial support from the city to help fund it as well as from organizations and members of the community.

“That’s why we’re inviting everyone to come together and attend this meeting to discuss how do we do it and how do we maintain it,” he said. “The last thing we want is for it to open and close in a year.”

Shafer said he didn’t care where the shelter was located within Elkhart County but the city of Elkhart seems the most logical to start — although in talking to people at Bashor Homes he’s been told they may already have a facility that could be used. He thinks there could be a possibility of a grant through the Elkhart County Community Foundation and said he also needs someone on board who knows how to seek out grants. Close to 200 people have been invited to this meeting — mayors, representatives from all service organizations and youth pastors.

“We want to find a strong enough momentum to push this forward and have invited people from different backgrounds to pool their resources and give us direction,” he said. “It’s time for the city with a heart to have a heart for our homeless youth.”

For those who worry about the cost of sheltering homeless teens, Shafer contends it’s less than the alternative.

“It can cost cities as much as $25,000 to $35,000 to provide emergency services and court services. Many cities are creating a trend and using the initiative called “Housing First” because you can provide housing for as little as $15,000 to $20,000 per year,” he said. (

“We know this is a growing concern,” Shafer said. “It’s not going to go away and it’s going to take time, but we have to start now.”
If you want to go

Anyone who is interested is invited to attend this informational/brain storming meeting on July 15 at the Elkhart Salvation Army, 300 N. Main St. from 2 to 3:30 p.m. For more information, contact John Shafer and Chicago & Michiana Five for the Homeless at 574-383-8428.


Michiana non-profits join together to help the needy

Posted: Dec 25, 2014 7:50 AM EST
Updated: Dec 25, 2014 9:00 AM EST
By Brandon Pope


This Christmas many Michiana families in a financial bind can have a worry free Christmas. And it is all because of the combined efforts of two Michiana non-profits.

Michiana and Chicago Five for the Homeless and Shephards Cove have joined forces. And they've helped make Christmas a merry time for more than four thousand people.

In fact, Shepherds Cove, which is in Elkhart, gave away clothing to about half that this past weekend.

Cove does what they call "preventative homelessness" for people who are facing hard times financially. Michiana 5 is more about helping those without a place to lay their heads.

They've got a bit of a wider scope than cove, working in Chicago twice a month.

Despite being under the same roof, the two non-profits don't usually work together.

But felt they could make a greater impact together this Christmas. And they say the results have been rewarding.

"We saw many people that just started crying," Sharlee Morain. "They would say I wasn't going to have a Christmas until you came in. That just makes your heart so warm. It's just great. "

If you would like to spread holiday cheer this season, you can donate at Shepherds Cove on Lusher Avenue in Elkhart. (original article)


Record setting day for the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless

Story by Dani Molnar

This Story appeared in the Nappanee Advance News on March 6 2014

Nappanee- Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless, Inc have been visiting Chicago every two weeks for months now. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the homeless in need of assistance, the public looking to help or other local groups encouraged by the actions of the Michiana natives, as is evident by the food, clothing and monetary donations provided to the group for Chicagoans.

But last weekend's trip to Chicago may have been one of the biggest beacons of the Nappanee-stationed nonprofit organization's success in the homeless community since last summer.

"We'd been seeing another ministry come every third week of the month", John Shafer of the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless explained.

While the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless had provided meals previously, weather and funding has made it difficult in recent months for them to do so. The last hot meal they offered was over the summer. Normally the group will venture to Chicago twice a month to visit the homeless, providing care packages one week and a hot meal the other.

At Pritzker Park, at the intersection of Van Buren Street and State Street in downtown Chicago, As the Harold Washington Library Center closes every Saturday at 5pm, and the safety of the educational building is lost to them, they seek refuge in the cold of the park. On Feb. 22 they found additional refuge in the kindness of the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless and the Street Angels of Hope providing a warm meal and supplies.

"All the homeless come out, and they see us setting up and they start to form a line" Shafer said.

In almost no time, the line ventured all the way to the street corner.

Two people from Chicago had filled a vehicle with clothing, coats and warm blankets which were passed out while individuals and families waited in line for a warm meal.

"It was great to have people in Chicago joining usto make a difference", Shafer said."When you see a large line and the faces of the people in that line, we were very grateful we received so many hugs and appreciation and thanks from the people we helped.

By the end of the night, the groups had fed about 130 people thanks to donations of baked items, pastas and other food from members of the Nappanee area and Chicago friends.

"We had just enough to cover to the very last person."

Since that night, the Chicago and Michiana Five has teamed up with the Street Angels of Hope to ensure they can host events like these for Chicago's homeless population every month.

Local food banks donated drinks for the event, and there was so much food that they were able to give a meal to go for those in attendance equipped with sandwiches, chips, yogurt and a snack bar.

For Shafer and the groups he supports, the struggle of being homeless is all to real. He learns about the people he helps and hopes for their continued growth, and that's not just the homeless of Chicago.

Every week the Chicago Five for the Homeless is collecting donations from Michiana residents to deliver to local homeless shelters, along the streets and to preventative programs such as The Window in Goshen and the Shepherd's Cove in Elkhart.

He explained that many homeless women and children are taken in by churches during the colder months, however men are left out on the streets without proper provisions in Elkhart County, the only homeless shelter for men is Faith Mission of Elkhart but there is hope for more.

This week, Shafer will be donating a truckload of blankets and pillows donated by an employee of the Holiday Inn Express in Warsaw to Faith Misson.

"We continue to look for more friends to join us and appreciate all of the support we're given.

It is estimated since the beginning days of the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless in Oct 2012, the group has touched the lives of around 1,100 individuals and has been on television and in the media at least eight times.

"It's because of the work we do", Shafer explained. "We feel blessed and fortunate."

On March 8, the organization will venture to Chicago once again to donate care packages to those who live on the streets. March 22 will be the next hot meal event, and it will be hosted by the Street Angels of Hope.

For more information on the Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless, visit them on Facebook at Chicagofiveforthehomeless.

To make a clothing, supply, food, or monetary donation or find out what's need to join the fight, contact John Shafer at 574-383-8428


A Michiana activist for the homeless wants vacant homes put to use

Posted: Jan 07, 2015 6:20 PM EST Updated: Jan 07, 2015 6:23 PM EST

By Andreina Centlivre

ELKHART, Ind. - A Michiana activist for the homeless is asking city officials to turn vacant homes and buildings into shelters on brutal winter days.

John Shafer who runs the nonprofit Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless is known for collecting blankets for the homeless. Today he is asking for more – he wants more shelters.

“Find a vacant building, a vacant apartment house, an office building - someplace where they can house the homeless. Get them out of this weather,” said Shafer.

Ronald Dove who visits Faith Mission's warming center and homeless shelter says “In this area, this is the only one. The only other one in the area is in South Bend. So yea, they are few and far.”

Shafer says he is petitioning for city officials to follow suit of other cities who have used vacant homes to reduce the cost that come with housing the homeless.

“The cost can typically be $31,000 per person, per year. The studies show that it can be reduced almost to $10,000 per person, per year just giving them a warm place, a warm building,” explains Shafer.

In Elkhart there are homeless who could benefit from more shelter options.

Ross Swihart, the Executive Director of Faith Mission of Elkhart says, “Well typically the reason for not being able to take a person would be like on our family side for the most part because we are filled up.”

Having to turn away the homeless in need is exactly why Shafer is asking the city to take action.

“Begin to house our homeless and get them off the streets,” demands Shafer.

Shafer is looking for support and asking people to write their city officials to support his cause. He says with a bigger community response the more likely his plan will be heard. (original article)


Nappanee man forms group to help homeless in Michiana and downtown Chicago

Updated: Mon 6:55 PM, Jul 08, 2013

By: Stephanie Stang

After retiring a Nappanee man is taking on a full time job of helping the homeless.

More than a year ago, John Shafer started a non-for-profit called the "Chicago Five for the Homeless." The group distributes donations to six local homeless shelters, like Faith Mission in Elkhart.

They have made several trips to Chicago to help people living on the streets. The group has handed out blankets, toiletries and food.

“So where the need is greatest we want to focus certainly on those individuals that seem to be forgotten and invisible and give them clothing and basic needs,” says Shafer.

The next trip the group will make to Chicago is on July 20th when they plan to serve a meal for a couple hundred people. (Original article)


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