The University of Chicago will provide a new round of meals to local residents in need, as well as extend other parts of its community assistance program into the summer.
In an announcement last week, the school said it would partner with local caterers to make 50,000 meals, distributing 1,000 meals each day until Aug. 9. While most of the food meal sites are in seniors' buildings, where residents are vulnerable to COVID-19, there are also some locations open to the public:
Hyde Park SDA Soup Kitchen, 4608 S. Drexel Blvd.
Inner City Mission, 7445 S. South Chicago Ave.
YWCA, 6600 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
The U. of C. also will expand its support programs for local businesses and nonprofits. For instance, 21 businesses will participate in a program this summer from the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, in which they’ll receive “consulting services” from students at the U. of C. and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
One of the caterers partnering with the university for its meal program is Tiffany Williams, who began Exquisite Catering, her Woodlawn business, three years ago. At the start of the pandemic, as she lost her normal customers, she was forced to lay off her entire staff.
Through a combination of grants — including a local one from nonprofit Sunshine Gospel Ministries and the federal Payroll Protection Program — she was able to hire workers back, though the substance of her work had shifted.
“I restarted the business just doing hot meals,” she said. “Then we started getting in larger orders to feed the community.”
Most of Williams’s work now involves larger meal distribution with organizations like the YWCA or the Trotter Project, which has been making meals for families and frontline workers in Chicago. She found out about the U. of C.’s program through the Office of Civic Engagement — after submitting a proposal, she was hired to make 1,000 meals each Thursday.
“They have specific guidelines, so the only way we really get to play around is with the dinners. Last week, we did a sweet and spicy chicken — this week, we’re doing teriyaki,” said Williams, who has been in the food business for two decades. “I’ve done (Lollapalooza) as head chef, so these numbers are comfortable for me.”
Williams said that, as a result of the pandemic, the underlying goal of Exquisite Catering has shifted. “Our mission has changed, from catering to no-one goes to sleep hungry,” she said. “For the one day CPS shut down its meal (distribution), we just gave away food.”