Snow Angels and The Real World

Snow Angels is the story of a young woman who gets roped into serving Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. The story flowed from my fingertips to the keyboard, and I was several chapters into it before I realized that it wasn’t working.

When I conceived the idea, I wanted to use the Milwaukee Rescue Mission (but set in Chicago) as the model for my setting. I was inspired by my limited involvement and knowledge of that and other ministries as well as the experiences of my husband, who has spent many years working with “troubled youth” and the juvenile justice system. I wanted to write a story about real, human people going through hard times, finding hope and love, with funny scenes as well as the sad stories.

Snow Angels by Cathe SwansonAs I researched homeless shelters and other rescue missions, it became increasingly clear that I could not set my lighthearted Christmas romance—especially a short novella!—in that setting. The scope of those ministries is beyond amazing. They meet needs I didn’t know existed. Thousands of staff members and volunteers pour themselves into serving others. The more I learn, the more humbled I am. There is certainly love and hope and humor there, but it feels disrespectful to try to create an entertaining, happily-ever-after story in 45,000 words.

So I scaled back. I have more experience with small-city ministries, decaying blue-collar neighborhoods, as well as senior centers and a few years of working with elderly people, so I created the Unity Plenkiss Community Center. We live between Milwaukee and Chicago, but at least one of the other Great Lakes books is set on the Indiana/Illinois border so I chose Chicago for the setting of the book.

But where in Chicago? It truly is a city like no other! I could never do justice to its rich and diverse culture, so instead of setting my little ministry in one of the many distinctive and unique Chicago neighborhoods or suburbs, I decided to create a small neighborhood of my own. It’s probably closest to Hegewisch, or even Calumet City, so I gave it some of those demographics.

The characters in Snow Angels aren’t based on actual individuals, but they do represent a few of the people you might find in the area. I have tried to portray them as ordinary humans with dignity and personality instead of making them into stereotypes. I’ve had fun with them, but if they were real, they would probably need a helping hand.

We are a military family, so the problem of homeless vets, especially those with PTSD, is something I am familiar with, but I was shocked to see the high number of homeless female veterans. Fortunately, the issue is getting more attention recently and being addressed by a number of government and community organizations. If you know a veteran who needs assistance, encourage—or help them!—to visit their local VA representative. There are good people there.

The Unity Plenkiss Community Center can’t fix the very real problems found in this area, but it can provide a warm place to sit down, a few hot meals, encouragement and activities for the young people, a safe haven for women in crisis, food and clothing for those with a need, tutoring, companionship and information about available resources. Like all such ministries, they are always in need of volunteers and money and wish they could do more. I hope you enjoy getting to know the people of Maly Park and are—just maybe!—inspired to become a snow angel in your own community.








  • Association of Gospel Rescue Mission – Find a Rescue Mission in your area.



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