Two local projects are teaming up through the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC), raising money to feed local families and U. of C. healthcare workers with meals from neighborhood restaurants.
The initiatives — Feeding Frontliners Project and Kenwood Food Project — are collectively known as Neighbors Together. Though they’re separate projects, they’re both designed to provide an outlet for people that want to donate money to people and businesses affected by the pandemic.
Started by neighborhood residents Kate Oakes and Susan Alitto, the Feeding Frontliners Project raises money to provide meals from local restaurants for workers at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC).
“What I wanted to do is try to make sure that Hyde Park restaurants were the ones feeding the UChicago Medical Center,” said Oakes, who moved to the neighborhood from San Francisco last year.
Oakes got the idea for the project a few months ago, but it took a little longer to get off the ground than she had anticipated. It’s now ready, after assistance from the University of Chicago, which connected her with local restaurants, and other residents, who helped get her in touch with HPNC. Despite delays, she thinks it fills a necessary gap.
“There are still people with coronavirus, there are still people going into the hospital, there are still frontline workers who are working day and night, very hard, to fight this and help people through it,” she said. “And there’s still restaurants — even though some are opening up and able to operate curbside, not all are. So this is still a need.”
Some of the restaurants involved, like Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd St., and Cedars, 1206 E. 53rd St., have already been providing meals for first responders. But Oakes said she hopes to smooth the path for them to continue with their work, and to help other restaurants participate.
“There are several restaurants on our list who have already been contributing, but then there were some who just didn’t feel like they were coordinated enough to do all that backend work themselves,” she said. “And we’re hoping that with our group doing the backend work that they’ll be able to provide.”
Meanwhile, the Kenwood Food Project, started by neighborhood resident Linda Swift, has been operating since late March. Through the program, people buy gift cards to different restaurants that are then given to families at Kenwood Academy, identified by counselors there as being in need.
Before coming under the auspices of HPNC, Swift raised more than $1,500. In the last three days, she said, another $300 in donations have come in.
It’s not just restaurants that are involved with Swift’s project. Early on, Danny Friedman, a Hyde Park resident and co-owner of Food and Paper Supply Company, a food service distributor based in Alsip, got in touch with her. The company has a location in Greater Grand Crossing, and Friedman thought it would be easier for them to help some of the school’s families.
“Kenwood Academy has lots of people who live farther south, and it would be more convenient — you don’t want people to have to travel long distances on public transportation,” Swift said. “They also have cleaning supplies that you can’t always get at food giveaways, as well as needed items like sanitary napkins or face masks.”
Swift also said that the partnership with HPNC has allowed both projects to streamline and legitimize donations. The organization also allows people to write off donations as tax-deductible, a perk Swift herself couldn’t provide. (“I have no desire to be the head of a social service agency for the rest of my life,” she joked. “Maybe there’s somebody there that can write a grant proposal. I’m not going to be writing grant proposals.”)
“I think that what will be helpful is simply reminding people that the need is going to continue for a while,” she said. “I think it’s not that people don’t want to give — you have to keep reminding people that we’re there.”
“You know, I wanted to live in a community that was known for people having a sense of community,” continued Swift, who has been in Hyde Park since 1970. “And that’s something I have found here in Hyde Park — that people are willing to help their neighbors.”
Oakes said the Neighbors Together collaboration will continue for the foreseeable future. “I feel like bringing these two projects together was a great way to not just support healthcare providers, but also to show that there’s other ways we’re supporting people in need in the neighborhood,” she said. “Who knows? If this is successful, we’ll find ways to expand even further. But for now, this is what we’ve got.”
Visit hpnclub.org/index.php/programs/neighbors-together/ for more details, and to donate to the projects. Donations can also be mailed via check to HPNC, 5480 S. Kewnwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60615. Indicate “Kenwood Food Project” or “Feeding Frontliners Project” in the memo.