Army of strangers follow woman’s lead of saving Chicago’s homeless from cold

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CHICAGO — A single act of generosity was multiplied again and again this week after a good Samaritan paid for hotel rooms to shelter homeless Chicagoans from a historic and potentially deadly cold snap.

Donations of transportation, food and money flooded in after strangers learned that real estate developer Candice Payne had booked 20 hotel rooms at the Amber Inn motel.

“I had strangers from social media who are now lifelong friends helping me,” she said.

Soon, the improvised group had booked 60 rooms for more than 100 people, including children and families, Payne said.

“I have people dropping by daily to help who have seen the story on Instagram,” she said. “They have volunteered money and time and cars because we had to get them to the hotel.

“I also have a real estate brokerage, so some of the agents came out to help. They cooked for the homeless, helping serving them.”

The crew’s first move was to evacuate a tent city near the Dan Ryan Expressway, where a fire caused by a propane tank explosion forced out dozens of residents, Payne said.

The Salvation Army had gotten a request to shelter about 70 people but later learned it wouldn’t be necessary because of Payne and her team.

“We are thrilled that they are safe and warm,” charity spokeswoman Jacqueline Rachev said.

The ad hoc volunteers also drove around Chicago’s South Loop, looking for people out in the cold, Payne said.

“We got people from the police stations, hospitals, outside huddled around fire pits. We drove around looking for them,” she said. “What inspired me was my current blessings, so I was just trying to give back.”

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