Tucked into a suburban Chicago train station is what may appear to be an unassuming coffee shop, but what’s going on behind the scenes is much more than just your average cup of joe. For the seventh year in a row, the shop’s owner, Pilot Pete, a.k.a. Peter Thomas, has been the driving force behind “Coffee With a Purpose,” an annual community initiative that collects and distributes coats and other necessities to help the local homeless population brave the harsh Midwestern U.S. winters. The first year, Thomas was unprepared for the avalanche of coats; this year, he ran a command center from a 26-foot moving truck and drove the coats around the city to people in need. Thomas says what he’s up to is about more than coats. It’s about forging a human connection with people who are so often invisible in society.

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