Helping the homeless

Residents give food, job training to Chicago’s homeless

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

November 15, 2017

The Chicago Help Initiative (CHI)—founded by longtime New Eastside resident Jacqueline Hayes—is a local, not-for-profit organization that provides meals, job resources, health services and more to Chicago’s homeless and underprivileged.

It started in 1999, when Hayes was a real estate broker who often encountered homeless people sleeping on the stoops of properties she was showing. “I noticed it was a problem,” Hayes said, “and I had to do something about it.” Over the past 17 years, CHI has amassed a consortium of helping hands to not only address hunger, but also to connect guests with resources and social services that allow them to work toward a better life. “We aim to get five to six people a year off the street and into jobs,” Hayes said.

CHI Founder Jacqueline Hayes (far right) and regular volunteer Susan Gold (third from left) host dinner guests at Catholic Charities, 721 N. Lasal-le St. Photo by Angela Gagnon

The process starts with nourishment. Every Wednesday night, CHI serves a hot meal to about 130 guests in the dining hall at Catholic Charities, 721 N. LaSalle St., but the popular weekly dinners include more than just food. Guests are treated with dignity and respect from the moment they enter the dining hall. Some guests are part of the Weekly Jobs Club, which provides valuable job training skills and assists with difficult transitions back into the workforce.

A guest speaker from a partner program begins the night by sharing resources relating to finding shelter, medical care or job training. Guests can peruse a resource table in the dining hall that provides more information about the speaker’s topics. They can also visit the health services table where local medical staff are on hand to administer care. When it’s time for dinner, table numbers are called and guests line up to receive their meals. Local corporations, restaurants, hotels, businesses and individuals sponsor the meals and provide the food. CHI also puts together about 60 bagged meals to distribute to those they cannot accommodate in the dining hall.

New Eastside resident, kitchen runner and board member Susan Gold has been an integral part of these dinners for the past 14 years. “CHI has grown tremendously from just a meal,” Gold said. “The guests are really taken care of and you become close to the people who come there to eat.”

Terry Coyner, a fairly recent New East side resident, attended her first Wednesday night dinner as a volunteer in late September. Coyner connected after passing so many homeless people on the streets. “I was really happy to see that I could just sign up to volunteer and start helping within a few days,” she said.

Her duty on that first evening was to give each guest a small gift at the end of the night—a cup of pudding and a spoon. “I saw so much gratitude from the guests who come for dinner, but the experience is also rewarding to those who help,” Coyner said. In the eyes of the guests, volunteers are more than just a helping hand. Longtime guest Rochelle Baker spoke fondly about the people she’s met at CHI and the experiences she wouldn’t have had without the help of the organization. “You just feel like you matter,” she said. “Like somebody cares.”

The CHI dinners are beneficial to the volunteers as well as the guests. “Volunteering with us is a very addictive experience,” Hayes said. “You feel like you’re doing good. It’s very rewarding.”

Currently, CHI is looking for tutors for their adult learning program, which runs weekly from 3–4 p.m. To volunteer in this capacity or to find out more about opportunities to help, contact Executive Director Doug Fraser (dfraser@chicagohelpinitiative.org) or visit their website at

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