Loren Naji Reopens his Ohio City Gallery for a Special Exhibition Benefiting the Homeless. One Catch: You Have to Help Out Before You Check In 

Helping hands

Last May, authorities raised both eyebrows and concerns throughout the region when they raided, and later shut down, Loren Naji's Ohio City gallery during two consecutive receptions. That gallery has now been closed for more than six months. It will reopen its doors on Saturday, Dec. 20, for a very special cause.

Warm HeARTS for the Homeless is a collaborative effort between Naji, Jane Shick, Sam McNulty and Nathan Carr.

"I was approached by a homeless gentleman for change outside a store," says Shick. "It was the day after our big November snowstorm, and I remember thinking that most of the shelters and soup kitchens probably weren't expecting winter to start so early. So I decided to have a Facebook clothing drive. On a personal note, this is a way for me to help a group of people that are very important to me. I have spent the majority of my life working with the homeless but haven't been able to recently. I am very grateful to work with Loren and people from all walks of life to make a difference to people in need."

Shick found an eager partner in Naji.

"Jane Shick is a wonderful human being who has been trying to help the homeless for a long time," adds Naji. "She's always enjoyed my gallery, and she attended my benefit show for kids with cancer that my daughter Brielle curated last December. Jane asked to use my gallery as a drop-off location for her clothing drive, but due to my irregular schedule, I couldn't promise to be in the gallery for any particular hours. I thought about it, and 10 minutes later, I called her back and told her this was a great excuse for an art show — a chance to use art to help people. She loved it, and the whole thing grew from there."

Naji's legal issues and battles with the city may be ongoing, but there are fun ways around the downers at city hall: The dry reception (in terms of refreshments, not atmosphere) will be followed by an after-party... down the street at Nano Brew from 9 p.m. until close.

"I knew I couldn't serve alcohol, but we wanted everyone to have a good time," continues Naji. "So I began looking around my neighborhood. I approached Sam McNulty and told him the story. I asked if he'd be willing to offer discounted drinks to people helping the homeless, and he loved the idea."

For entry to the gallery, as well as drink discounts at Nano Brew, you're going to need a wristband. How do you get a wristband, you ask? Well, that's the best part.

In order to obtain a wristband, you'll have to donate specified items to one of three nearby locations. Without a wristband, you'll be the one left out in the cold this weekend.

"I'm really excited because this could raise so many more donations and more awareness," explains Shick. "I picked three organizations that I knew had the greatest need for donations and got a list from each one of what they needed most. For example, Metanoia serves a lot of homeless people who spend the winter outside. They requested blankets, disposable handwarmers, and men's boots among other things. We set it up so people can donate directly to the organizations and receive a wristband to enter the art show."

On Fridays and Saturdays between 7 to 9 p.m., bring socks, gloves, hats, men's boots, blankets, hand or foot warmers or camping tents to Roger in the clothing room of the Metanoia Project (2459 Washington Ave.) in the old St. Malachi school building.

The Catholic Worker Storefront (4241 Lorain Ave.) is accepting donations on Thursdays from 7 until 9 p.m., Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. They're in need of coats, hats, gloves, socks, men's boots, hoodies, razors and deodorant. Ask for Peter, Paul, Brian or another volunteer to get your wristband.

Bring coats, hoodies, socks, gloves or hats to the Denison Avenue United Church of Christ (9900 Denison Ave.) on Tuesdays or Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or Wednesdays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Go to the backdoor on West 99th Street and ask for a volunteer.

Saturday evening's show will feature work by Cleveland-based artists Steve Cagan and John Ranally. Cagan is a renowned documentary photographer, with a portfolio and resume that span decades and continents. His socially conscious work is a reminder of the cause at the root of the event. John Ranally graduated with a BFA in sculpture from Ohio University in 1974. He works in wood, steel, bronze and precious metals.

Naji has a court date in January in regard to his gallery's distribution of alcohol. If you've been waiting for your opportunity to check out the gallery and/or show your support, don't forget to do your good deed and pick up your wristband this week.

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