Gary Cheney was sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with his family when he was called to action several years ago by “one of those still, small voices that you hear that comes from deep within your heart.”
“When our family comes together—religion and politics are often a topic of discussion,” said Cheney, an independent insurance broker and chairman of the New Lenox ShareFest organization that is gearing up for its annual good deed/collection drive Sept. 1-11. The drive recently was hailed as “Eleven Days of Giving” by mayor Tim Baldermann.
“We can debate that in a civil manner and actually enjoy it,” Cheney said. “One Thanksgiving back in ’06, we were gathering as a family and there were a number of things in the world that had happened, all of the Enron stuff, the corporate greed and some other terrible things.
“One of our daughters brought up the question and said, ‘What would you do to solve that? What would you do if you had all the money in the world?’ It went around the table. Then, somebody said, ‘Well, if I had all the money in the world, I would start a TV show or a news show and it would only be about good news.’
“People are beat up with all of the chaos that is going on. That’s when that voice came to and said, ‘It’s time.’ ”
Later that night, Cheney started putting together a power point and, now six years later, he stands at the head of a ShareFest organization that has come to be recognized as a pillar of community activist strength in the Southland. The organization focuses much of its attention on recycling and reuse but also has a collective eye trained on assisting senior citizens, feeding the hungry and preserving green space.
On Sept. 8, ShareFest volunteers will team with New Lenox village and township officials and the Will County Land Use Department to host its annual Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day. The event, made possible through an intergovernmental agreement, will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot at Spencer Trail School, 1701 S. Spencer Road, New Lenox.
The hazardous waste pickup day rates as one of the highlights during ShareFest’s Eleven Days of Giving. The pickup day offers Will County residents a chance to pitch in by cleaning out their garages, emptying their kitchen cabinets and discarding unwanted items ranging from automotive batteries to outdated medication.
While the hazardous waste pickup is limited to Will County residents, their friends and neighbors around the Southland are encouraged to stop by and donate old clothing or used books. All of the items will be collected and recycled or redistributed, thanks to the work of Cheney’s ShareFest team.
“I see it as taking responsibility to do what I feel I’ve been called to do,” he said. “That takes going out and making relationships to get it done. It’s not me, really. You need to consider all of the people involved. We have 70 organizations involved in ShareFest.
“It takes an village, so to speak, to accomplish things like this hazardous waste and electronics collection and Styrofoam and wood and paint and oil—all of that. I think the part that I get excited about—not only do we accomplish that and have that environmental impact—but what I really get a kick out of is the cooperation, the unity in the community.
“We have so many people in this community—I believe we’re a chosen community to actually be an example for other communities. We are one, big bright spot in this state of Illinois. That comes from the township, the village, Will County, the Proud Americans in New Lenox. I like to look at it as it’s a huge responsibility to be a great community, a courageous community, but that’s what we have to do.”
Cheney works with many like-minded and like-thinking individuals, including New Lenox Township supervisor Bill McCollum.
“Well, first of all, the township and I am personally committed to recycling,” McCollum said. “As we know, it’s a problem with the landfills. They’re filling up all too quickly. And I think the EPA and others have taken the initiative that we need to be doing something better with these materials.
“The township has a charge with the recycling constituents here in New Lenox. They have voiced their concerns about this. They want to recycle. They want to be good stewards of the environment. They’ve told us that. And this is our response.”