Skokie family wins gift of organization
Skokie's Jason Lancaster takes cereal from his daughter, Mary, 2, for their new pantry. The Lancasters will start the new year with a reorganized home after winning a $25,000 interior makeover from Chicago Closets by Design. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:12AM
SKOKIE — Even with a $25,000 gift certain to get their new year off to a badly needed organized start, the Lancasters are careful to keep the “Me Monster” away.
That’s what Jason and Melissa Lancaster of Skokie sometimes call the impulse to focus on oneself — wanting “stuff” when there are so many people in the world who need a loving home. These parents have imparted the “Me Monster lesson” to their children — four biological, one internationally adopted and one from a local foster home.
More internationally adopted children are likely on the way; the Lancaster family, now with children ranging in age from 2 to 14, will soon get larger.
“We love kids, and we love to love kids, but we often have a hard time keeping all their necessities organized,” Jason Lancaster wrote. “Soon and very soon we are going to welcome more internationally adopted children into our home. Once the paperwork clears, up to three more children will join in the fun and love. It is a blast, but it also makes for an organizational nightmare.”
That explanation was part of Lancaster’s essay submitted to Closets By Design, which offered a $25,000 “Holidays By Design” home makeover to the winner.
The Lancaster family was that winner, initially among the dozens that submitted a photo of their disorganized home and an essay making a case for the gift.
“The laundry piles are enormously high,” Jason Lancaster wrote. “It’s like climbing a mountain. And where do we put all the food?”
Jason Lancaster is a pastor at Evanston Bible Fellowship Church while Melissa is a stay-at-home mom caring for her six children and Teddy, the family’s affectionate pet.
“I thought we’d never have a dog,” Melissa said. “I swore we never would, but one of our children had sleeping issues and along came Teddy.”
Then again, Melissa also thought that she was done having kids after their four biological ones were born.
“I had given away the baby stuff, I wasn’t going to have more kids, we were not going to have dogs,” she said, smiling. “God tipped everything upside down.”
One changing factor, the Lancasters say, was learning more about international sex trafficking of children. Children in orphanages are especially vulnerable.
On a Sunday night, Jason and a friend became frustrated — tired of just sending in money to help the cause. They vowed to do more and Melissa was on board by the next morning.
Jason Lancaster notes there are 140 to 160 million orphans in the world, though not all of them adoptable.
“But many of them are,” Jason said. “We’re nobody’s hero. This is the way God was encouraging us. We just want to do what we can do.”
Along with a burgeoning family has come more clothes to wash and food to store. Jason’s essay specifically referenced the laundry/food/utility room and called that catch-all venue “one big mess.”
“My system just kind of blew up,” Melissa said. “I didn’t want to complain that I had too many kids because I wanted to be doing this. But I felt my hands were tied.”
The entire family welcomes the outside help.
“I’m really happy because our house isn’t so organized sometimes,” said Elijah Lancaster, 12, the oldest child.
Closets By Design spent three December days at the Lancaster home. By the end of the first day, the family had double the kitchen storage space. Other reorganized space included the laundry and furnace rooms, master closets, the kitchen, the foyer and more.
“We usually don’t do whole house systems,” said worker Barry Ano of Closets By Design. “It’s unique for us to be working on so much of a house.”
It’s more unique for the Lancasters. They already felt blessed, but now they are blessed in a new way.
“I never won anything before,” Jason said.
“We feel like it’s a direct gift from God to give us exactly what we need to do this and to continue to do this,” Melissa said.