When a good Samaritan picked up the tab for hotel rooms for dozens of homeless people during the polar vortex, it seemed reasonable to assume the benefactor was a rich person. One who could afford what was ultimately 60 rooms near downtown Chicago. One with serious sway who was used to making big things happen.
What an empowering surprise to find that it wasn’t.
Candice Payne, her husband and a group of about eight South Side friends emerged as the leaders of the effort to relocate more than 100 people from the cold after an explosion caused fire officials to remove propane tanks from their camp off Roosevelt Road. “This is just regular people trying to help,” said Payne, 34. She kicked off the effort to shelter people by reserving 20 hotel rooms using her credit card and posting a plea for help on Instagram.
Knowing that people nearby might die or lose limbs to frostbite in a matter of hours seems an obviously galvanizing force. But it’s common to feel helpless, or to wonder whether a well-intended gesture might go wrong. Being in a big city is also a hindrance: Surely someone will take care of this, right?
Payne and her friends took the initiative to be someone. So did the owner of the Amber Inn, the hotel that agreed to take the group in.
Praising them shouldn’t move the focus from policy and philanthropy. Better to prevent people from falling into dire need. But when the wind is whipping and safety is urgent, acts matter. The good Samaritans’ bold move brought adults and children inside for days to eat broccoli soup, take hot showers and sleep in snug beds.
As the story of Payne’s make-it-happen spirit spread widely over the weekend, the world applauded Chicago’s heart and heroism. In the next crisis, will more of us be like Candice Payne?