The holidays are always a time of surplus good cheer and great food, when we're reminded of our own good fortune and inspired to share it with those not so lucky; and in this period of economic strain, acts of generosity are increasingly welcome. The following organizations, committed to fighting hunger and homelessness, count on donations and the work of volunteers to keep needy Chicagoans fed and housed. The gift of your time or a few extra bucks in food and supplies could make someone's holidays a lot brighter.
Greater Chicago Food Depository
4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, (773) 247-3663
Food pantries, homeless shelters and soup kitchens across Chicago depend on the Greater Chicago Food Depository to furnish their meals. Not surprisingly, demand for donated food has been steadily rising, so now is the ideal time to dig deep and chip in. Dry, canned, frozen and refrigerated foods are all suitable for donation to the Depository. Volunteers are needed weekday mornings to load trucks for distribution, stock the shelves at the Agency Mart—a storefront that supplies local pantries—and make delivery and pickup runs. Extra hands are sought Tuesdays through Saturdays to repack bulk items into family-size boxes.
You don't have to travel to 42nd Place and Pulaski to help out. Dominick's and ABC7 partner each holiday season to benefit the GCFD. The goal this year is to collect one million pounds of food, so remember to pick up a few extra goodies November 3 through January 3 of next year to drop in donation barrels located by Dominick's checkout lines. You can make depository donations at many area Whole Foods locations, too.
East: 3831 N. Broadway, (773) 525-1777
West: 1414 W. Oakdale, (773) 404-6333
With two locations, the Lakeview Pantry can use helping hands almost every day of the week. Food Distribution East seeks volunteers Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. to restock and repack food, work the counter and sort clothes. Help out at Food Distribution West Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30-8 p.m. or Saturdays from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Home delivery volunteers are welcome two Saturdays each month. If you'd like to make a monetary contribution that lasts into the New Year, the Pantry allows you to set up an automated monthly deduction of $10 or more. With just a few clicks, you can help fight hunger year-round.
Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation
4345 W. Division, (773) 252-3663
This organization not only feeds 150,000 people each month, but also strives to educate youth about healthy eating through Project Newtrition and train the unemployed and underemployed in culinary skills in Oliver's Kitchen. The Anti-Hunger Federation accepts non-perishable items like canned foods, boxed cereals and bottled juice as well as tax-deductible monetary donations.
North Park Friendship Center
3448 W. Foster, (773) 267-8395
Donations of food, clothing, toys, books, blankets and kitchen wares are all welcome at this storefront on Foster and Kimball. Serving one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, the North Park Friendship Center is always in need of volunteer translators fluent in Russian, Spanish, Arabic or Vietnamese.
3744 N. Damen, (773) 327-0553
Bring non-perishable food, clothing and personal care items to this North Side pantry, located in the Epiphany United Church of Christ. Lend a hand stocking the shelves Mondays and Wednesdays or assembling grocery deliveries one Saturday each month. The Common Pantry also accepts donations of used ink cartridges, which can be mailed in for cash courtesy non-profit organization reycle4charity.com.
multiple locations, (773) 722-5080
This women's shelter, with locations in Lakeview and Old Town, needs volunteers to help serve dinner in the evenings. Or contribute your talents by teaching arts and crafts, tutoring at the learning center, helping out with the website or joining in fundraising efforts.
Breakthrough Urban Ministries
402 N. St. Louis, (773) 722-1144
Help serve breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of two locations once a month or volunteer to tutor youth once a week for a full semester. Volunteers are also sought for urban outreach to women struggling with addiction, teachers' assistants for pre-kindergarten kids and to coach basketball, soccer, baseball and T-ball.
multiple locations, (773) 878-0981
This organization dedicated to fighting homelessness seeks volunteers age 14 and up to cook, serve and pack bag lunches at two kitchens: the Inspiration Cafe [4554 N. Broadway] and the Living Room Cafe [806 E. 64th]. Tutors, yoga instructors, computer class instructors and those willing to help coach job training skills like resume writing and interviewing are always welcome.
United Church of Rogers Park
1545 W. Morse, (773) 761-2500
Each Sunday, the United Church of Rogers Park hosts a "community feast" at 5 p.m., open to all. Drop by early to help prepare the meal or head over Saturday morning to help bake the dozen pies served at the feast each week.
St. Ignatius Food Pantry
6559 N. Glenwood, (773) 764-5936
The St. Ignatius Food Pantry is seeking volunteers (especially those who speak Spanish or Russian) for help preparing meals and feeding the homeless. Volunteers are sought for help Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Volunteers must be at least 14 years of age to participate.
1014 N. Hamlin, (773) 342-8384
If you're looking to volunteer by helping prepare meals, Leslie's Place on the city's West Side is in need of volunteers Tuesday through Friday each week. Volunteers can participate in a group.
Third Sunday Food Pantry
5443 S. Washtenaw, (773) 419-6141
The Third Sunday Food Pantry is seeking volunteers to help prepare and distribute food, and to help with crowd control. Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age to help and can participate in a group.
Got more to give? Check out these websites:
Virtual Food Drive
Don't have extra items to donate from your pantry? Even if you've got nothing extra to spare from the kitchen cabinets, you can still help donate food. Many companies have begun "virtual food" drives – where you can virtually shop for items and donate without having to handle or drop off those extra cans. Donors get an instant receipt confirming their donation, and all money donated is restricted to food purchasing.
America's Second Harvest
It's the country's "food bank network" – fighting hunger not only in the Chicago area, but across the nation. You'll find info on how to donate food in your area, corporate and personal volunteer opportunities across the country, and ways to donate money toward the fight against hunger. The group collects more than 2 billion pounds of food and grocery products each year. Ever wonder how the food you donate gets to those who are hungry? The group breaks the collection down into five steps, and shows you how your contribution really does make a difference.
Since 1991, Chicago Cares has created, managed, and led 20,000 community service projects, offered Chicagoans more than 275,000 volunteer opportunities, and dedicated 875,000 hours of service to the City of Chicago. These programs help meet the most pressing needs in education (adult and children), hunger, health and wellness, senior services, and environment and rehabilitation.
Be thankful for Centerstage Chicago's Thanksgiving Guide
Eat Out ~ Drink on the Eve
Get Cookin' ~ Buy a Pie
Eat at O'Hare ~ Munch Near Midway