By Jayme Nicholas and Matt Knutson

Peter Thomas, owner of Pilot Pete’s Coffee and Treats in Elmhurst, calls what he does “coffee with a purpose.”

Every other week during Chicago’s harsh winters Pete brings hot coffee and warm coats to the homeless. His mom said his compassion for others has been evident since he was a young boy.

Peter Thomas, owner of Pilot Pete’s Coffee and Treats in Elmhurst, calls what he does “coffee with a purpose.”

Pete has rallied the community around his effort, has collected hundreds of coats for Chicago’s homeless. But he doesn’t just collect the coats; he actually drives his van or rents a truck to personally greet those who make the Chicago streets their home.

He also gives them a cup of coffee, some tasty treats and other amenities as he delivers blankets, scarves, gloves, and special care packages he assembles that include everything from hand warmers to socks to candy bars.

Thomas says the idea came to him when he was trying to find a way to give back to the community as well as get others involved. He admits he was initially unprepared for the positive avalanche of responses. In the weeks prior to Christmas in the drive’s first year, he and other volunteers took in 3,000 coats.

This year, for drive number seven, Thomas and crew helmed the Coffee With a Purpose command center from the back of a 26-foot moving truck. The humanitarian caravan made a total of six stops throughout greater Chicago.

Pilot Pete’s brewed up 40 gallons of coffee for the occasion. The hot java was supplemented by donations from three other Elmhurst businesses eager to do their part.

Baked goods came courtesy of Rough Edges Confectionery; the truck and a driver were provided Good Move Movers, and custom truck signage was the handiwork of Angel Fancy Design Studio.

Pete himself sorts coat sizes, rolls blankets, and inspects donations to ensure everything is fresh and clean. He believes the personal touch gives people on the street not only some relief from the winter weather but another, more important thing: hope.

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