Got extra hotel toiletries? Chicago dispatcher’s nonprofit donates them to homeless people

Long ago, Minka Giles was bit by the travel bug and hotel toiletries began to accumulate in her Chatham home until “One day it was like ‘Well, what do I do with all this stuff?’” On Wednesday she was honored for her efforts.

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Minka Giles a 14 year veteran with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, holds up her Marciea Adkins Excellence Award she received today, Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Giles was awarded the award for her work at OEMC as well as her non-profit organization Never 99 who helps homeless people all over Chicago. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Minka Giles a 14 year veteran with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, holds up her Marciea Adkins Excellence Award she received today, Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Giles was awarded the award for her work at OEMC as well as her non-profit organization Never 99 who helps homeless people all over Chicago.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Minka Giles, a Chicago police dispatcher, loves to travel.

She’s been to 34 states and nine countries and, like many travelers, she began to acquire a lot of hotel toiletries.

“One day it was like ‘Well, what do I do with all this stuff?’” she said.

So she began to give the items to homeless people. And she tapped her friends at the police department for help.

Now, at least once a month, a police officer will drive Giles to places like Lower Wacker Drive and other downtown areas where homeless people congregate.

“We just drive around and we touch every homeless person we can until we exhaust the resources that we have for that day,” she said.

Giles turned the work into a nonprofit and named it Never 99.

The number is used in police dispatch terminology to denote a cop who’s patrolling alone, but Giles wanted to use it to let people know that no one is ever alone.

“You are never 99, you are never alone. There is always someone somewhere to help, whether you’re dealing with homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, whatever,” she said.

On Wednesday, Giles was awarded the Marciea Adkins Excellence Award at the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications for her work in going above and beyond the mission of public safety.

Giles, 55, of Chatham, is sure to remind all her friends and colleagues to donate any toiletries they can scoop up from hotels while traveling.

She also accepts monetary donations online through the group’s website and Facebook page and is working towards buying a van to further Never 99’s reach.

Before taking a job as a dispatcher 14 years ago, Giles, who graduated from Chicago Vocational High School and Chicago State University, worked for the state as a case worker helping the city’s most vulnerable and needy.

“I’ve always worked in an industry where people were less fortunate than I was and this has been my way of giving back and saying thank you for the blessings I have,” she said.

Anyone is welcome to volunteer, Giles said. Mostly, the work is done by Giles and six of her friends — all of whom have full-time jobs.

“Sometimes my husband comes along with me. But he says he’s not really part of the organization, he’s just the janitor, because it’s me and my girlfriends,” Giles said with a laugh.

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