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A Summer Sorter’s Experience at The Friendship Center

I started volunteering at The Friendship Center when I was four years old. My dad is a teacher, and I volunteer with him in the summer. Once COVID hit, volunteering obviously stopped, but this summer I started to look into coming back. Like a lot of places, there are age restrictions, but then I saw the Summer Sorters program on Fridays for kids 11 and up. I kinda forced my parents to sign me up! 

I immediately loved it. It combines the good feeling that comes from helping people, and organizing, which I love to do. While clients are finishing shopping, we kids are preparing and sorting other things. This includes what is going on the shelves, making boxes for home delivery the next day, organizing pet food for the third Saturday of the month Pet Food Pantry, grinding coffee, or – my favorite – peeling a scratched-up protective coating off of a steel table. (I know that last one sounds weird, but it’s great to do when you are waiting and is very satisfying!) Once the front shopping area is open, we restock the shelves with everything they need from the back, from fresh produce to food rescue pastries to toiletries and more. We end up laughing with each other by the end of the two-hour shift, even if we just met.

After a couple weeks of Summer Sorters, I asked Karen if there were other times I could help out. I filled out a volunteer form, and I’m now an official volunteer. I even helped cook dinner this month! I now sign up for shifts on their great volunteer website. You can see what shifts are open at what times and what a shift entails. 

I find volunteering – especially at The Friendship Center – to be a very rewarding experience. My parents have raised me to do my best to always help others. One thing in particular is that no matter what happens, you are in no way, shape, or form better than who you are giving a helping hand to. In a lot of cases, someone has just hit a hard time and is otherwise no different than anyone else.

I always feel good afterwards because volunteering gives me a purpose and something to focus on. In this crazy world where you can feel so helpless, it is always good to find something to ground you, that helps you ignore everything else and focus on what you are doing. And in volunteering at The Friendship Center, you know that you’re not just helping yourself but your neighbors as well.

-Cora Weiss


About the Author:

Cora is a soon-to-be 7th grader at a local elementary school. She lives in the neighborhood with her parents (her mom, Kelly, is a Friendship Center board member) and their adorable dog, Scotch.

Providing Better Support with our Partners

The most humane and effective way to get the outdoor cat population to a manageable level is through Trap- Neuter- Return (TNR) services. The Friendship Center Pet Food Pantry compliments the Tree House Humane Society’s TNR program in many ways.

Cats congregate in areas where there are resources, and many caretakers end up caring for more cats than they can support. While many colony caretakers have a hard time affording the full scope of needed care, out of deep compassion, they continue to dedicate their funds and time to help the cats they encounter. Tree House does what it can to stabilize the colony’s numbers through its no-cost, on-the-ground TNR program.

Due to the speed at which a colony of cats reproduces, the numbers can get out of hand. It is not uncommon for people to start seeing a few cats first, and then for that number to skyrocket. Sometimes, the number of actual cats in a colony is much greater than what the caretaker even realizes. There are many times where we are called onto a site with 10 cats or more! After we treat a colony to stop the chaos of quickly reproducing cats and the focus turns to the colony’s immediate care, these amazing people are often faced with a scary reality: loving the cats like their own but not having enough resources to feed them adequately.

When I volunteer at the Pet Food Pantry, I see many of those same clients I’ve worked with receiving the help The Friendship Center provides. It warms my heart to see people who I know pour their heart into the care of the cats, have a resource to turn to in difficult times. Because of programs like The Friendship Center’s Pet Food Pantry, caretakers have a place to get support and some financial relief. 

Tree House Humane Society partners with The Friendship Center by sharing pet supplies such as food, collars, beds, litter, and other essential items. With the amazing space and program at The Friendship Center, together we can assist many more pet-friendly community members than if each acted alone.  

-Olivia Radziszewski


About the author:

Olivia leads the TNR efforts at Tree House Humane Society. She has always been interested in helping and supporting animals. As well as has been a foster in many organizations in the Chicagoland area. Having worked in human services as well, she is grateful for the opportunity to bring two together by participating in programs like The Friendship Center Pet Food Pantry. 

Poverty is Not a Mindset

Poverty is not a mindset.  Poverty is a systemic failure.

We often hear that everyone can make it if they would just put forth the effort; that it is their own fault if they are poor. This is untrue.  Many of those that are living on the margins and in the shadows of society have literally been forgotten.  Decades of policy choices have created the dramatic increase in poverty that we are now experiencing. Systems and governmental barriers prevent those living in poverty conditions from escaping. 

As a child, if you grow up in a neighborhood that makes no investment in you, that dismantles your neighborhood by closing schools and stores, blocks transportation access, that removes all resources from your community, you will be impacted.  There is no way you wouldn’t be.  And these experiences help frame our lives and the decisions we make. In fact, most people experiencing chronic homelessness struggle with what we call ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). 

We are a reactive society, which is one of our biggest downfalls.  We have devalued the lives of children.  These children will grow into adults.  We then expect those adults to operate effectively, with rational thought and make good decisions.  What we don’t recognize is that these adults were the children that ate Cheetos and juicy boxes for breakfast on the way to school.  These are the children we didn’t invest in and gave up on.  How can they thrive in conditions like this?  

People, especially those that deal with chronic homelessness, need more than a roof over their head – if they even want that.  They need wrap around case services, support, therapeutic healing, mental health services, etc. For example, California is expecting a budget surplus of close to $98 Billion in 2023.  Gov. Newsome will be adding an additional $700 Million to his proposed budget of $2 Billion for housing solutions.  Although this budget increase is commendable, instead of addressing the issues at the root of the problem money is thrown at housing.  This rarely works. 

As I teach my NEIU students in our “Hunger and Homelessness” Justice Studies class, no one grows up wanting to be poor or chronically unhoused.  Systemic barriers and decades of failure have led us here to where we are today.  Failing to provide proactive strategies and solutions, like investing in housing without addressing mental health, is not a legitimate path forward.

-Gaylon Alcaraz, Justice Studies – NEIU


About the author:

Gaylon comes from a long history in Chicago as an activist, organizer and champion of human rights.  For more than twenty five years, she has worked on behalf of sexual minority women, anti-violence, gender equity, health prevention, reproductive rights, as well as race and culture issues. She has consistently applied her knowledge in practice towards quality improvement, increased access, and by challenging frameworks that do not allow for the exploration of diversity across multiple dimensions when working with, and on behalf of diverse constituencies.  Gaylon is the past Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund and is a founding board member of Affinity Community Services, a past board member of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and the Midwest Access Project. Currently, she is the Director of Operations with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois she was awarded her BA and MA from DePaul University.   Gaylon is currently a PhD candidate in Community Psychology at National Louis University. 

A Message from Our New Board Chair

It has been my privilege to serve on The Friendship Center board for more than twelve years, and during that time, our organization has grown and evolved in ways we could not have imagined. We have expanded our boundaries, changed locations, grown our programming, and even added pets to the list of clients we serve. We have been overwhelmed watching our neighbors and supporters respond each time we see a need or new opportunity to help those in need.

One day, I hope that organizations like ours will no longer need to exist. Food insecurity is a burden that no family deserves to experience. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from weighs heavily on your daily life and affects how you make decisions for yourself and your family. Our work is not just focused on providing food but also on providing the peace of mind that comes with having your family’s basic needs met. That is why at The Friendship Center, we have remained steadfast in our mission for more than 50 years.

As we reopen our doors on our beautiful, newly renovated space this month, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to expand our reach and continue to serve our community. The dedication of our staff, donors, and volunteers gives us the confidence to keep dreaming, growing, and serving clients each day.

This summer, we invite each of you to join The Friendship Center in fulfilling our mission by volunteering, making a gift or donating to our “Restock Our Shelves” food drive which ends June 17th. The Friendship Center depleted our inventory in preparation for our renovation, but now that we have reopened, we need your help to restock the shelves for our food insecure neighbors. Any non-perishable food donation is appreciated, and can be dropped off at the following locations before June 17th:

Davis Theater, 4614 N Lincoln Avenue

Fresh Street, 6191 N Lincoln Avenue

33rd Ward Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez‘s Office, 3001 W Irving Park Road

Now more than ever, we understand how unpredictable life can be, but together we can assure our neighbors that we will always be here to help.  

-Sarah Zimmerman, TFC Board Chair


About the Author:

Sarah Zimmerman works as the senior associate director, annual giving at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. With more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and management, she is responsible for driving strategy for the Law School’s annual fund and legal clinic. As a member of the board, Sarah supports The Friendship Center’s fundraising strategies, communications and strategic planning efforts. 

A Message from our Retiring Board President

I recently retired from The Friendship Center Board after twenty-five years, and I have been reflecting upon all that evolved during that time. Much changed, but much did not. The food pantry operated from five different locations; there were six different directors; there must have been at least sixty Board members; and we added a hot meal program, homebound delivery program, and a pet food pantry. What never changed was the amazing dedication of the directors, employees, volunteers, board members, and donors. Their compassion, vision, and hard work are what made The Friendship Center so special and impactful. Sadly, what also never changed was the compelling need for the services The Friendship Center provides. Even in the best of economic times, many still live on the edge for a variety of reasons. And recessions, government policy changes, pandemics, and inflation only exacerbate food insecurity. Fortunately, the Board, executive leadership, and financial supporters have put The Friendship Center in the best position it has ever been in.

It has been an honor and rewarding to be a part of this history, and I plan to stay involved in other ways for as long as I can. Please continue to help those in need as The Friendship Center expands and improves its services to clients. Thanks to all of you.

Respectfully,

Ted Helwig


About the author:

Ted Helwig has served on The Friendship Center board for 25 years. Now retired, he practiced law in Chicago for 40 years, the last three-plus decades at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and the first nine in the federal government as law clerk to a federal judge and then a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Ted served on the board of Legal Aid Chicago from 2004-2019. He and his wife, Dawn, are long-time members of North Park Covenant Church, which founded The Friendship Center food pantry in 1969. 

Food Waste Reduction Efforts at The Friendship Center

Earth Day is April 22, and Stop Food Waste Day is April 27, so it seems like a perfect time to highlight the issue of food waste and the ways that The Friendship Center is working to reduce wasted food while improving service for our clients.

Food waste has enormous environmental, ethical, and economic impacts. According to ReFED, a whopping 35% of all food in the U.S. was either unsold or uneaten in 2019, representing $408 billion worth of food. When food is wasted it also wastes all the land, water, energy, labor, and love that goes into producing it. And when food decomposes in landfills, it generates greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. In fact, food waste accounts for 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

This level of food waste is happening at the same time that 1 out of 6 Americans struggle with food insecurity. Within The Friendship Center’s service territory, 1 in 3 people, or 66,000 of our neighbors, are food-insecure.

While there are many systemic reasons for this disconnect, food waste is a solvable problem. The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy suggests that beyond source reduction (prevention), the best option for reducing food waste is to Feed Hungry People, which, of course, is our mission at The Friendship Center.

The Friendship Center currently rescues and redistributes unsold, high quality food from a handful of local retailers to augment our inventory. Donations include meat, fresh produce, dairy, baked goods , and shelf-stable items.

Even more exciting is that with our new grants from Swedish Covenant Hospital and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, The Friendship Center is currently renovating our facility.  Increasing our cold storage capacity and acquiring a new van will allow us to significantly expand our food rescue efforts and increase the amount and variety of culturally-relevant foods we can offer our clients.

Farther down the Food Recovery Hierarchy is composting, which is one more way that The Friendship Center is working to reduce food waste. Composting is a way of recycling food scraps and turning them into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Foods in our inventory that go past their prime, as well as food scraps from our hot meals prep, are placed in toters out back and collected weekly by a compost collection service.

The Friendship Center is looking forward to expanding our food rescue efforts in the future– for the health of our neighbors and the health of our planet.

 – Susan Casey


About the author:

Susan Casey has served on The Friendship Center board since April 2021. She is the Zero Waste Schools Program Manager at the nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, where she works with K-12 schools to reduce waste. Susan is a member of the Wasted Food Action Alliance and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition.