[dropcap]F[/dropcap]inding a life lesson in everyday situations takes real skill. But then again, Gene Pellegrene, a conceptual artist, is somewhat of an expert at that. Although he is too modest to admit it, he is doing some great things in his neighborhood.
As the owner of Artist Painters, a painting company that hires actors, painters and such, Pellegrene supports the arts by being a flexible boss who allows time for auditions and personal projects. He even makes lunch for his employees on a regular basis. He takes great care of his clients too by letting them know how important they are with customized artistic surprises. Pellegrene, originally from Pennsylvania, enjoys when people appreciate art for art’s sake. He wants to go above and beyond for others.
Pellegrene applies this same concept to everything else he does, including caring for the homeless in his Logan Square community. As the creator of www.care-bags.org, he has supplied over 430 packages to homeless people since he started over a year ago. The idea for this came about when he least expected it. Pellegrene recalls, “At least for me, you create art or a piece when your soul needs it, even if you didn’t know yet, and then you go back and analyze it,” he said, recalling his own struggle when he broke his arm.
Because his business as a painter is pretty physical, an arm injury that required surgery set him back last year and he started to experience financial problems. He told EXTRA, “Having surgery put a monkey wrench on things.” Pellegrene was home and started thinking about what he would need if he was homeless. “What would I need if I was out there?” he wondered. So he started putting some clothes in a few bags, and planned what each person might need. He made sure to include some nutritional bars, vitamins and water. He set out to give away the bags but, “I was afraid. I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid I would say something insensitive or stupid. I didn’t know what their reaction would be,” he said. All he knew is that he wanted to help, and as he told EXTRA, “Why wouldn’t I?”
He started in April of 2013. “Now I park and walk. We all know each other’s names. We share personal information. I try not to talk about sensitive things. If they want to talk about it, that’s fine. I try not to ask questions that have a high probability of a negative answer,” shared Pellegrene regarding his newfound friendships. “I don’t want them to think I’m going to judge them, or I’m not going to be back. You can take that and you can apply that to everything. [There are] so many things you can take from this experience,” he said. “Apply this to other parts of your life, and don’t be judgmental. They’re survivors in every sense of the word,” said Pellegrene of the regular five to seven homeless people he visits and gifts care bags to each weekend. He spends about $500 per month on the packages, which sometimes include bus passes and yoga mats to sleep on. “I never set out to get anyone off the street,” commented Pellegrene. Although friends encourage him to form a nonprofit and grow the project, he said he prefers to keep this small and personal, and instead encourages others to create their own care bags for the homeless in their communities. He often crosses paths with others giving out meals and other things. “A little bit of kindness, a drop in the bucket,” he added. “It really makes a difference.”
SAVE THE DATE: Winter Wear Clothing Drive, Dec. 17, 6-8 p.m. at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. in Chicago.
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