Modern facility at The Center will serve 14,000 meals per year
By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
A life cut far too short by a drug overdose has been honored by constructing something that is feeding the bodies and hearts of people on their own road to recovery from substance addiction.
Last week’s near-record cold had barely lifted when, as temperatures hovered a degree or two above zero, dozens of people gathered Thursday evening at the Lodge at The Center in Palos Park to learn about Dennis Raber.
“Dennis was here in our Pathway to Sobriety program,” said David F. Sanders, executive director at The Center. “Like so many people today, he was struggling with addiction. Many of the people in this room tonight know all about that, because that is what this organization has concerned itself with for over 80 years.”
Sanders and the guests were surrounded by the warm and rustic ambience at The Lodge. They were on hand for the formal dedication of a new, commercial-grade kitchen that is already serving the residents there.
“Dennis was doing good,” said Sanders. “He got off to a rocky start, but he was making it. I believe he had over one-and-a-half years of sobriety, a really vibrant young man, full of life and dreams.
“And then, out of the blue, one weekend he lost his life. He overdosed on heroin; fentanyl, really…unregulated, very powerful and lethal, easy to get,” said Sanders.
Dennis Raber died Feb. 6, 2018 at 29 years of age.
Opioids are a class of drug naturally found in the opium poppy plant. The drug relaxes the body and relieves pain. Locally and nationwide, the statistics of opioid-related overdose deaths are eye-opening. In many cases, it starts with prescription drugs.
The opioid epidemic, or crisis, as it is commonly referred to by policymakers, the media and even the President, crosses nearly all societal boundaries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a million people nationwide died from drug overdoses since 2000, and six of every 10 of those deaths were with opioids. The CDC notes that 91 people in the U.S. die from opioid overdoses every day.
Deaths due to heroin, part of the opioid family, have been increasing since 2007, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. The largest recent increase in deaths from opioids is due to fentanyl (synthetic heroin) which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Dennis Raber had been dealing with addiction for about “four to five years,” said his father, Mark who paused in the kitchen as well-wishers flowed through after the ribbon-cutting.
“Since the day it happened, we put it out (the circumstance of his death) right away,” he said, standing alongside his wife, Kathy who is Dennis’ mother. On Kathy’s phone, daughter Dana watched the proceedings from halfway across the country via video chat.
“We’re not trying to hide it. We’re trying to get rid of the stigma and shame that goes along with it,” said Mark.
“He spent 60 days here,” said the senior Mr. Raber about the Pathway to Sobriety program. “It was a good place. He unfortunately underestimated himself, the strength of the drug and the power of his disease.”
Pascual Rios was a friend to Dennis Raber and knew him since 2015. They shared the same birthday.
“He was really respectful and nice,” said Rios. “He was somebody that you could talk to without any problem.”
Newly installed appliances and food preparation areas gleamed the night of the dedication, prompting comments of admiration from many who walked through the kitchen.
“The is absolutely beautiful,” said Kathy Sulski. “There’s a feeling you get when you come here,” she said of The Lodge. “What people are doing here is the right thing.”
Sanders, The Center’s executive director, said the kitchen will serve 14,000 meals to the members of the Pathway to Sobriety annually.
The new facility came about when Mark and Kathy Raber submitted The Center and its mission for consideration to Cooking Up Better Lives, an organization founded by the foodservice buying group, Excell Marketing in 2007.
In collaboration with its dealer and vendor members, Cooking Up Better Lives “seeks to improve the functionality, efficiency and value of community-based non-profit programs,” according to its website.
Cooking Up Better Lives helps “shelters, homes, hospitals and other community-based entities in need of foodservice products or funds, have the opportunity to receive and leverage such contributions.”
Sanders said The Center was one of nine non-profits nationwide in the final decision process.
“Mark and Kathy staged and delivered all the equipment that came in from 26 different vendors and dealers across the country,” said Sanders, who noted that those dealers donated more than $90,000 worth of equipment.
As part of his presentation before the ribbon cutting, Sanders called out many of the names of individuals and organizations who contributed to the effort. More than 100 monetary donors, tradespeople, companies, local businesses, foundations, service clubs, volunteers, friends and staff took part in the kitchen project, which was completely new construction in place of the old kitchen.
“Out of our love, Mark and Kathy, we dedicate this kitchen to your son, Dennis and all those who fight the battle of addiction every day,” said Sanders.