Long Valley parish is home to Operation Chillout
By AMANDA TRAVERS
WASHINGTON TWP. – The gym at St. Luke’s Parish in Long Valley is little more than a full-sized basketball court, not a particularly memorable or impressive space.
But it will play a crucial role in Operation Chillout, a program to ensure that area homeless people have enough bottled water during the coming, hot summer months.
Deacon Ray Chimileski, Oblate of Saint Benedict and Operation Chillout’s national coordinator, plans to help fill the gym with cases of water bottles.
Chimileski said he plans to develop a “wall of water,” with four foot high cases of water bottles surrounding the gymnasium’s perimeter.
The effort to collect water bottles continues through the end of the month and will culminate with deliveries to homeless people in six counties during the July 6 week. The group also accepts cash donations that are used to buy more items for homeless people.
Operation Chillout is an interfaith program dedicated to helping the homeless, and it places special emphasis on providing homeless veterans with aid.
“It started in December of the year 2000,” Chimileski said. “It started as an outreach for homeless veterans, and now its mission is to provide help for those who fall through the cracks.”
Operation Chillout began with Chimileski and three other volunteers.
“We started out at Route 46 under the trestle in Dover. Three Vietnam era veterans were living there,” Chimileski said.
The program includes two seasonal projects and periodic, “street sweeps.”
“In the winter, we collect winter clothing, thermals, toiletries, and shaving and hand cream that we distribute in backpacks,” said Chimileski, “In the summer, we collect bottled water.”
Operation Chillout also collects T-shirts and baseball caps to give to the homeless as part of the summer project.
Street sweeps are conducted throughout the year and involve identifying and providing aid to homeless populations.
Chimileski said street-sweeps are conducted in urban areas and may be prompted b y a news story about homeless people. Several police officers are congregants at St. Luke’s and help Chimileski to identify homeless populations.
“They tell us who the local police are. We call the police unit, and then they tell us where it (homeless population) is,” Chimileski said.
He said police welcome the aid of Operation Chillout because they sometimes do not have the resources to deal with homeless populations.
Operation Chillout reaches out to the homeless in many locations. According to Chimileski, the program caters to 60 homeless in Dover who are served at a soup kitchen in Trinity Lutheran Church.
Operation Chillout also visits drop-in centers, service centers, and other soup kitchens.
About 50 percent of the locations that Operation Chillout serves are transient sites.
“Half of the people we meet on the street,” Chimileski said
He said some locations include the banks of the Passaic River in Paterson and a tent city in Hackensack. Operation Chillout caters to all ages, ranging from teenagers to those over 70, he said.
Chimileski said he decided to collect water bottles after tragedy struck. One of the men who lived under the Route 80 overpass, he said, suffered frostbite and died during the following summer.
“Homeless advocacy groups that were checking up on the area didn’t see him. They noticed he wasn’t coming to his meals, and went looking for him,” Chimileski said. “They found him and took him to a doctor. The doctors said it was so bad that they would have to amputate all his toes and fingers. By this point, it was summer.”
Chimileski said the man had no access to water and that he died from an infection and an adverse reaction to antibiotics even before the surgery to remove his toes.
“If he had water he wouldn’t have gone into heat exhaustion due to being at the jeopardy of the hot weather,” Chimileski said. “Also, you need a lot of water to flush out toxins. Without the water, the antibiotics stayed in his system.”
The homeless may lack reliable access to running water for multiple reasons, he said, adding some homeless people do not live in a shelter because of emotional, behavioral, or psychological issues.
As the hot weather returns, Chimileski said he hopes Operation Chillout can provide temporary relief to those without regular access to running water. He plans to deliver about 12,000 bottles in a period of a week, right after the July fourth weekend…
Volunteers will distribute the water bottles and supplies.
Operation Chillout also offers a summer, veteran outreach program, providing home-cooked meals for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in Lyons.
Operation Chillout volunteers work closely with the area’s interfaith network that also includes St. Lawrence Church in Chester, St. Virgil Church in Morris Plains, St. Monica Church in Sussex, St. Jude Church in Budd Lake, and Zion Lutheran Church in Long Valley.
Operation Chillout has come a long way from its early days.
“We started out of the back of the trunk of a Subaru station wagon,” Chimileski said.
He said Operation Chillout is in the process of applying for not-for-profit status to open the way for grants and other services.