Over the last year, our Thursday hot-meal dinner program has doubled in numbers — even as our dining room remains closed due to COVID and all meals are served to go. Ross Outten, above, has been stirring a lot of pots!
We now serve 75 to 85 people every week from 6 to 8 p.m. Every person who drops in receives a hot, nutritious meal and a bag full of RTE (ready-to-eat) snack foods.
We feature a changing variety of donated ingredients from local garden plots and nearby restaurants that enable us to serve global flavors representing the cultures and nationalities that make our community so vibrant.
Prior to COVID, clients were served in a dining area and conversation flowed along with the food. We’re not there yet, but we still aim to provide more than just a meal.
Last year around this time, we started getting calls from partners like our local ward offices and Swedish Hospital, asking if we could help get groceries to seniors and other homebound people in our area. Networks of friends and other community supports that were strained by COVID-19 left many households unable to get the food they needed. We took down a few names and addresses, and started reaching out to our volunteers for help making deliveries.
One of our first clients was Bill North. Recently home from surgery, barely able to walk, and afraid to go out to the store, he called 40th Ward Community Engagement Coordinator Lisa Bowden, who reached out to the Friendship Center.
We now serve 11 seniors in his building, and more than three dozen other regular clients around the neighborhood. We also brought groceries to seniors in Humboldt Park for several months while their local pantry director was stuck at home in recovery and had to suspend operations.
The senior delivery program was a “build the airplane while it’s flying” kind of effort — such has been required of so many in our food systems and community resource centers over the past year. We’ve learned a lot and grown in the process, and plan to continue to develop our capacity for delivery where it is needed.