Until recently, there were two things one could be sure to encounter at Shalom Ministries at the beginning of the day: hungry people and fresh graffiti facing the alley behind Central United Methodist Church.
Shalom has been feeding homeless and low-income downtown residents in the basement of the church at Third Avenue and Howard Street since 1994, and program coordinator Holly Chilinski was getting more and more frustrated by the constant graffiti problem.
“It was every day. It was tagging, it was marker, and it was petty, silly, lewd stuff that was written all over the place,” Chilinski said. “We tried to keep up with removing it within three days, or painting it over, but it was just impossible.”
And that’s how the mural idea was born.
“We thought, ‘How about we do a mural that appeals to the street folks, graffiti-style?’ ” Chilinski said. “So we did, and we haven’t been tagged since.”
The tall bright letters read “Dining with Dignity – Shalom Ministries,” and the mural has become the group’s new sign.
“All we had before was a little sign that said, ‘Shalom out back,’ ” Chilinski said. “This is so much better.”
Eddy Poblete, son of church maintenance worker Ed Poblete, painted the mural.
“He grew up in the church and was part of our programs,” Chilinski said.
The Rockford Lions Club donated $500 to the project, and the rest of the $1,300 cost of the mural came from donations to the Central United Methodist Church Planners Club.
A big chunk of the mural budget – $1,100 – went to purchase a protective clear coating for the mural.
“We applied a product called Graffiti Shield, so now, if we are ever tagged, we can just wash it right off,” Chilinski said.
Brian Whitcomb, a salesperson at Parker Paint on Third Avenue, helped Shalom Ministries find something that could protect their new mural.
“Graffiti Shield resists marker, spray paint, all that stuff,” Whitcomb said. “When the wall is tagged, you scrub the tag right off with a special cleaner and water. It’s a neat product.”
Graffiti Shield can be used on many surfaces, including vinyl siding, wood and brick, but it costs about $130 a gallon.
“For some people, that’s a lot of money to spend,” said Whitcomb, “but when you think of what they are paying for now, in time and labor, to repaint and remove graffiti, then it’s not so expensive.”
Whitcomb said one gallon covers from 100 to 300 square feet, depending on the surface, and it will hold up through 200 scrubbings.
“Someone can vandalize your wall 200 times and you can scrub it right off,” Whitcomb said. “What we hear is after three or four times of tagging and the graffiti getting cleaned right off, the tagging stops because the taggers don’t want to waste their time.”
So far, Chilinski said, the graffiti has stopped.
“We have been tagged again, but not on top of the mural, just around the edges and it’s come right off,” she said. “It looks great back there. It was always such a nasty gray area.” She added that doing the sign graffiti-style probably is one reason it hasn’t been vandalized.
“There are lots of great graffiti artists out there,” said Chilinski. “I’d hope other people would try this approach, instead of constantly dealing with graffiti removal.”