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. 

Handing someone a meal today could turn into a lifetime of generosity and potential tomorrow.


As a young child, my favorite foods were a pita pocket with a slice of American cheese or Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. It’s not unusual for kids to be picky eaters, but for a time in my life, these were the only choices I had.

My mother was and is an amazing, strong, and independent woman, and as a teenage mom, she did her very best at solo parenting. While we eventually rose above the poverty line with the help of family, friends, and largely my mother’s own perseverance and grit, there was a period of time where we lived on food stamps. We also spent time living in a shelter with other young women and children who did not have a place to go.

I remember a story my mother told me of one day entering a room in the shelter where toys and home goods had been donated from the community. My mom was told to choose whatever she needed, and I could pick whatever I wanted from the toys. This simple act of generosity overwhelmed my mom with tears of gratitude and joy. Someone was rooting for us. Someone cared.

Experiencing poverty and food insecurity at a young age and watching the courage of my mother to provide the best for us set the stage for my future career. Because I had received so much from the kindness of strangers, it was ingrained in me that one day I would return that favor and pass along whatever gifts I had to give.

Today I am proud to be serving on the board of The Friendship Center. My day job also brings me joy serving as Director of Development for One World Surgery, a global healthcare nonprofit that ignites the spirit of service to provide high-quality surgical and primary care to underserved patients in Honduras and the Dominican Republic through local clinical staff and international partnerships. Before joining One World Surgery I worked with Covenant World Relief and Development (CWRD), an organization that supports locally led community development projects in over 30 countries, including women’s empowerment, agriculture, and clean water initiatives. 

On my first trip to Honduras with CWRD, I was amazed by the thoughtful and sustainable way local leaders were creating nutrition programs to help mothers in rural areas grow their own healthy food and not have to depend on buying the only choices available at the roadside shops – mainly chips and soda. That road to sustainability began with one person reaching out to another with a gift that they could offer – a banana tree or a mustard seed.

Food insecurity is a topic that really hits home for me. And while each country has its own unique challenges, the US is not exempt. According to Feeding America and the USDA, more than 38 million people in the United States, including 12 million children, are food insecure. The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic.*

Being able to serve on the board of The Friendship Center is a gift. Our incredible staff is dedicated to serving our clients with the utmost dignity and respect. Handing someone a meal today could turn into a lifetime of generosity and potential tomorrow. I am grateful for each staff member, volunteer, and donor who partners with The Friendship Center to bring hope to a child, a family, a community. Thank you for transforming lives, one meal at a time.

* https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america

-Catherine Werner


About the Author:

Catherine Werner has served on The Friendship Center board since 2015. Catherine first connected to The Friendship Center as a volunteer while living in the Albany Park neighborhood. For more than 12 years Catherine has worked with nonprofits to end poverty, violence and inequality both nationally and globally. She and her husband, Matt, live in Chicago.

Catherine’s mother is currently a health and wellness copywriter based out of the Twin Cities and is grateful to now be able to personally donate to the Greater Boston Food Bank, another Feeding America partner who helped her and her daughter in times of need.

New Friends! Michelle, Susan & Mike

Every few months we’ll introduce you to some of the people whose efforts are at the heart of the Friendship Center’s work and community engagement.

Photo of Friendship Center board member and volunteer Michelle Cahoon
Michelle Cahoon

Michelle Cahoon has been a volunteer at the Friendship Center since July 2019 after spending 30+ years in the financial services industry as the CFO of an investment management firm and a certified public accountant.

She has been a long-time financial supporter of the Greater Chicago Food Depository due to her strong belief that no one should go hungry and becoming a regular volunteer at the pantry was a top goal after her retirement.

Michelle joined the board in April 2021 and brings both her hands-on knowledge from volunteering as well as her financial skills to that role. Michelle enjoys food, wine and travel and has been an avid Blackhawks fan since before their recent Stanley Cup wins.

Photo of Friendship Center board member and volunteer Susan Casey
Susan Casey

Susan Casey joined the Friendship Center board in April 2021 and helps with Saturday food deliveries to seniors. She has lived in the North Park community with her family for over 20 years, where she’s enjoyed volunteer leadership roles in the local community association and a local school.

As a program manager for the environmental nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, Susan helps K-12 schools reduce waste. She was a middle school science teacher prior to that. Susan looks forward to contributing her nonprofit, education, and community-building experience to the work and mission of the Friendship Center.

If you recently saw the Friendship Center in the Chicago Tribune, FOX-32, or WTTW, then you were looking at the handiwork of our PR guru/volunteer Mike Roach (pictured above, holding the Trib op-ed by Friendship Center volunteer Jaime Freedman). After 20+ years making news for national brands including Budweiser, Harley-Davidson, KFC, and Snickers, Mike launched his own agency to help entrepreneurs, nonprofits and small businesses elevate their storytelling.

Mike loves visiting farmers markets with his wife, Katie, and daughter, Ella. In fact, it was at the Ravenswood Farmers Market where he first found out about our food pantry and got involved. We became his first pro bono client! You can follow Mike’s travels to markets around the world via his Instagram feed @AtTheFarmersMarket.

“There are so many unsung pantry volunteers doing such amazing things, it’s humbling to be able to help tell their story,” Mike said. “I just hope this media attention inspires other professionals in the neighborhood — be they accountants, plumbers, painters or social media gurus — to join me in donating some of their time and talent to support this important work.”