By: Caitlin Brown
I can count on one hand the number of Thanksgivings that I didn’t spend in my childhood home, surrounded by family, with more food than could possibly be consumed in one day. Every year that I was away, I promised my family that I would visit for Thanksgiving and the holidays and somehow was able to keep that promise despite jobs, schoolwork, and travel.
But for Chicago’s homeless, food and shelter are not guarantees, not even while the rest of the country goes on enjoying lavish feasts in the comfort of their homes. According to the most recent surveys and census data, there were over 80,000 homeless in Chicago as of 2016. To truly celebrate this season of gratitude and generosity, here are a few organizations leading the way with examples of how you can give back to those less fortunate:
The Chicago Help Initiative is an organization that provides meals and services to Chicago’s many homeless. On Wednesdays each week, the CHI partners with various Chicago restaurants to prepare balanced, healthy meals for 130 guests. For the holidays, CHI will host their 4th Annual Holiday Bazaar on December 5th to provide the city’s homeless with donated goods that they can use or give to their families. The organization is also raising $5,000 so that they can give Target gift cards to the guests that attend Wednesday meals. To aid them in their mission to aid the homeless, you can donate (generally or toward the Holiday Bazaar or gift card drive), volunteer to serve a meal, or tutor an adult learning class.
The Night Ministry aims to provide assistance to those struggling with homelessness and poverty. This organization gives emotional and material support through shelters, healthcare, outreach, social services, helping to address the complicated, multi-faceted nature of homelessness. In addition to their many services aimed to provide long-term or short-term housing to those in need, their Health Outreach Bus bring essential medical care to underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Donate or volunteer to help support their work.
To help Chicagoans get back their feet, Cara utilizes a rigorous training process to find long-term employment for homeless, former convicts, and others struggling with the obstacles posed by unemployment. Cara gives its trainees professional development coaching, entry into transitional jobs, and placement into long-term occupations. Even after trainees find employment through Cara, the program continues to give guidance to ensure retention. You can help by volunteering in coaching services, promoting Cara through social media, or making a donation.
This list is by no means expansive–there are many, many programs and organizations based in Chicago that are doing their part to help.
If you encounter a homeless person or family in the inner city that needs housing or medical services, please contact Chicago City Services at 311 or (312) 744-5000.