Thankfully Giving

November 2019 View more

Matt Hebel, Michelle Kolenda, and Tim Hebel

As the Thanksgiving season approaches and we reflect on what we are grateful for, family, friends, and good health often come to mind. Matt Hebel and Michelle Kolenda include Hesed House on that list. While they’ve never stayed at the homeless shelter, they have spent more time there than most as volunteers for the past 15 years. 

Located in Aurora, Hesed House is the second-largest homeless shelter in Illinois. More than 7,000 volunteers from over 90 area churches, businesses, and service organizations assist in its mission to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Hebel and Kolenda—siblings who grew up in Naperville—run the Hesed House Ministry at Good Shepherd Church. Every other month, on the second Wednesday and Thursday, the duo coordinates all the volunteers needed to prepare and serve three meals at the shelter. That includes spending weeks collecting food and cash donations in order to provide the residents with dinner, breakfast, and a sack lunch. “We are very blessed with the donations we get at Good Shepherd. We’re able to make some really good meals,” Hebel explains.

Hebel and Kolenda’s parents instilled a strong sense of service in their five children—something the siblings are passing on to the next generation. “I’m pretty sure all of our siblings and spouses have served at Hesed House at one point. Michelle’s children have also served there,” Hebel says. His children are too young to help onsite, so they often bake cakes and cookies for the meals. “It’s an easy way for them to give back. They love it when I tell them how quickly their desserts went and how much they were appreciated,” he says.

Hebel and Kolenda’s volunteer work is much more than just preparing and serving meals. “Because we’ve cooked and served there for so many years, it’s easy to forget that it’s not just about the food. It’s really about engaging the with the people staying there,” Kolenda explains. Her brother agrees: “The food is a need. The shelter is a need. But even more than that, the guests need human interaction, respect, and dignity. They may be struggling this week or this year, but they are just people and need someone to talk to. More often than not, they have a bigger impact on me than I probably have on them,” he shares.

The siblings know firsthand the positive impact the shelter has. “There are countless stories that are touching and have had a big impact on me. There are some guests we see once and never see again. I judge it a success if I don’t see them the next time,” Hebel explains. “Then there are those we’ve been seeing since we started and have built relationships with.” One woman who spent a long time in the shelter with her two children now gives back to the volunteers by cooking for them during coordinator meetings. “Now that she’s back on her feet, she wants her kids to know that it’s important to give back,” Kolenda says.

“I am truly thankful for Hesed House,” Hebel says. “It’s an amazing place. It’s somewhere that most people don’t want to go to, but when they need to, it’s there to help them with education, job skills, job placement, or even just a hot meal. Michelle and I love it.” 

“It’s amazing to me how many people don’t know there is a shelter so close to home,” Kolenda says. “There are so many ways you can get involved, even if you don’t belong to a church.” A list of volunteer and donation opportunities can be found at

Photo courtesy Matt Hebel