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Together We Cope gets room to spread out

Beverly Consier sorts through some clothing donations piled ceiling backroom Together We Cope Tinley Park Illinois Friday January 4 2013.

Beverly Consier sorts through some of the clothing donations piled to the ceiling in the backroom at Together We Cope in Tinley Park, Illinois, Friday, January 4, 2013. A recent donation of an additional building in Tinley Park will give Together We Cope much-needed breathing room. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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Updated: February 19, 2013 11:34AM



Ray Busch remembers growing up in a home where money for life’s basic necessities was sometimes hard to come by.

Now 67 and a successful certified public accountant in Tinley Park, he and his brother were raised in a single-parent home — Busch said his father died when he was 2. One winter there wasn’t money to fix a broken boiler, so the family slept in the kitchen with the oven door open.

“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but what we had we shared,” he said.

Busch said he’s a firm believer in giving a hand to those who are less fortunate, and that was a major factor behind his decision to donate the building housing his business to Together We Cope.

The nonprofit isn’t leaving its current home at 17010 Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park, but the donation will give it much-needed breathing room at a time when demand for its services continues to increase. Together We Cope’s food pantry and resale shop will remain where they’re at, and some administrative functions will relocate to the 3,200-square-foot building Busch has donated, at 17728 Oak Park Ave., Kathy Straniero, Together We Cope’s executive director, said.

Moving some offices, probably in early March, will free up space for the group’s food pantry, which on a typical day is serving 65 families, an increase of about 25 percent from a year ago, according to Mary Ann Baer, Together We Cope’s director of development.

“It will really take the stress off this building,” Straniero said.

Busch said he’s moving his tax and accounting business to Palos Park next month, largely because of what he calls an “onerous” property tax bill at his current location, which is more than $30,000 a year. He said a longtime friend encouraged him to consider donating the building he’s vacating to Together We Cope.

Busch said he looked over the group’s operation and “was most impressed with it. Their work is very noble.”

Relieving families’ ‘food burden’

Together We Cope relies on private donations, grants from foundations, some federal money and proceeds from its resale shop, Nu2u, located next to its Tinley Park office. Beyond basics such as food, Together We Cope helps clients, when possible, stay in their homes with financial help for rent or mortgage payments and utility bills.

Sometimes, just a couple of bags of groceries each week are enough to plug one hole in a family’s strained budget, Straniero said.

“If we are there to help them and take that food burden off, then maybe they are able to pay that electric bill,” she said.

Along with the food pantry in Tinley Park, the nonprofit distributes food through Faith United Methodist Church in Orland Park, and plans are to operate a small pantry at South Suburban PADS’ Wellness Center in Country Club Hills, Straniero said.

Longer-range plans — put on hold after the recession hit — call for establishing a food pantry and resale shop in the northern area of Together We Cope’s service territory, perhaps somewhere in or around Oak Lawn or Evergreen Park, Baer said. Transportation constraints can make it difficult for residents in that area who need the organization’s help to get to Tinley Park, Straniero said.

For now, Together We Cope’s shelves are fully stocked with food — along with donations from individuals, grocery stores and local restaurants are reliable sources of donations, Baer said. The Christmas season traditionally brings with it a wealth of food donations, but the shelves can get thin in the months afterward, she said.

“Everybody thinks about us during the holidays,” Baer said. “People ask what they can do for us and I tell them, ‘Hold a food drive in February or March.’ ”



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