We’ve all been touched by COVID-19 in different ways.
Since the start of the pandemic, simple tasks such as grocery shopping and pumping gas have become both stressful and potentially dangerous. Patrons who were once free to roam and work are now confined to the walls of their homes, working remotely and catching up on the latest Netflix series when things are slow.
While this pandemic has induced tremendous anxiety for all of us, it’s important to think about those facing poverty and homelessness during these trying times. For this subset of the population, a simple meal or a comfortable place to sleep is never a guarantee.
My organization – Lincoln Park Community Services (LPCS) – strives to support this vulnerable demographic by providing interim housing for 83 guests per night across two facilities.
Just a few months ago, team members were giving each other high fives for lining up volunteers to come cook and serve dinner and most of the breakfasts in March. Lunches weren’t as big a demand because most of our homeless guests worked during the day. However, as the impact of the virus escalated in March, we saw those meals cooked by volunteers disappear. By mid-March, we suspended all on-site volunteer support, levying an incredible toll on our staff.
To complicate losing on-site volunteer support, nearly all our homeless guests lost their jobs as many were employed in the restaurant, hotel or other sectors that were severely impacted by the virus shutdown. Our guests were now “sheltering in place” all day long in our facilities and we needed to figure out how to support three meals a day.
We put out a call for food donations to our incredibly dedicated network of more than 2,000 supporters and volunteers and they stepped up…covering most of our lunch and dinner meals. However, breakfasts were proving tricky.
Two long-time supporters and volunteers, Andrew and Chantelle Pires, wanted to help with the breakfast gap, but they also wanted to make a difference for a local restaurant impacted by the slowdown. Their generous donation enabled us to partner with Chef Craig Bell and his team at Reclaimed Bar and Restaurant in Chicago’s North Center Neighborhood and they now provide breakfast meals to both our locations every Wednesday and Friday morning.
I can tell you firsthand that our guests love these tasty meals. The rotating breakfast menu includes specialties like Cinnamon Vanilla French Toast with Raspberry Compote, Smoked Pork and Roasted Tomatillo Chilaquiles, all reflective of Reclaimed’s southern gastro style.
This program is feeding about 70 guests twice per week (140 total meals each week) for eight weeks. It has also spurred other impactful partnerships, such as another local donor who orders pizza for our guests from her favorite joint, Aurelio’s, helping to keep the restaurant in business.
As many other local chefs and businesses have learned about the program, they have been quick to donate. Chef Bell is receiving product from Columbus Meats and Chef’s Warehouse in Chicago to help sustain the initiative. The partnership has also enabled him to hire back one of his most talented line cooks, Vianny Rodriguez, a single mother and Chicago native with a passion for food and helping the community.
“COVID-19 is testing and challenging all of us in the restaurant industry, but it’s rewarding to support Lincoln Park Community Services and their inspiring mission to combat homelessness in Chicago,” said Chef Bell. “From the donors who made this possible, to Vianny who is in the kitchen before dawn, it goes to show you we all have an opportunity to make a positive difference even in the most trying of times.”
This program is truly a win-win. Our donors support the most vulnerable with a meal and make a difference for a restaurant during this challenging time. I encourage everyone with the means to support their favorite eateries by buying a meal for our health care workers, first responders and homeless organizations.
To learn more about our work at LPCS and our Virtual Metamorphosis Live Spring Fundraiser, please visit our website at www.lpcschicago.org.
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Lydia Murray is Interim Executive Director of Lincoln Park Community Services, a homeless services organization in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Old Town neighborhoods. Lydia is a longtime LPCS supporter and volunteer and previously served on the organization’s board. She has assumed this role while on sabbatical from Deloitte Consulting where she has been a senior manager in the Government and Public Service practice for the past 5 years.