Local charities left short-handed after season of giving
by Jacqueline Covey
The Chicago Help Initiative gives free meals to guests who are in need. During the holidays, there is no shortage of volunteers, but post giving-season, this organization, like many non-profits in the area, becomes short-handed.
Executive Director of Chicago Help Initiative Doug Fraser sees an increase in volunteerism around Christmas each year, but he said that’s not when it’s needed. Between now and February, he’s calling on Christmas-time aides to re-sign up with the organization. New volunteers are always welcome, too.
Every Wednesday, volunteers provide sit-down dinners to 130 guests and 70 take out meals as part of the Chicago Help Initiative free meals program. The idea is that providing a dignified experience fulfills a sense of place for participants. Before dinner, some guests take advantage of classes in technology, creative writing and art facilitated by Catholic Charities at their community center located at 721 N. LaSalle St.
“We are all a community, we all have each other,” said Sandra Dillion, a student in the knitting group. “We share our ideas and our thoughts. If we get stuck, we are here to help each other out.”
The first dinner was in 2001 when Catholic Charities opened their space for a weekly gathering with food donated from local restaurants. A speaker mini-series was added, then social and health services were brought in and over the years relationships have been built between long time volunteers and guests.
“We have volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, some of whom have been coming for years,” said Brigid Murphy of Catholic Charities. “There are lovely relationships that have developed among volunteers and supper guests.”
The organization has created a space built on respect where social stigmas are broken down. For a couple hours, guests can enjoy the simple joy of having a warm meal in a warm place with friends.
“What we’ve learned is that if you treat a home- less person with respect… we can get them off the streets,” founder and president Jacqueline Hayes said. “Efforts to help are good, but we fill them up with such good feelings about themselves.”
As a Chicago real estate broker specializing in retail leasing along the Magnificent Mile and Oak Street, Hayes sought ways to help the homeless population that congregated at storefronts.
Now, 20 years after the group began, the organization is still growing largely as a result of a robust volunteer community.
For more information or to volunteer, contact the Chicago Help Initiative, 440 N Wells St., Suite 440, Chicago, (312) 448-0045 or visit chicagohelpinitiative.org