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Inspiration Cafe and Dominick's Program

Volunteers augment donated food at the Inspiration Cafe, cook, and serve one Thursday evening a month. Every Saturday, volunteers pick up day-old goods at a local grocery store and distribute it to local agencies.

Emanuel Congregation
5959 N. Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60660

Target Groups: Adults, Multi-Generational Social Action Program, Seniors, College Students

Several years ago, Emanuel Congregation's Social Action Committee decided that while many agencies around the world need help, the Committee would focus its efforts on local, direct help. Like other congregations, the Committee sponsors an annual Mitzvah Day, several drives each year, and other good works, however, the Committee members feel that two ongoing programs deserve special mention: the Inspiration Cafe and the Dominick's Program.

Inspiration Cafe

Program Goal and Target Population

The Inspiration Cafe serves free dinners to people who were homeless and are currently returning to work. The Cafe is organized as a restaurant with a choice of food, which provides people with a free meal while maintaining their dignity. Clients are referred by caseworkers.

Involvement of Congregation and Number of Volunteers

Three years ago, the Social Action Committee began working for the Inspiration Cafe on occasional evenings, but for the past two years, Emanuel has been responsible for the Cafe every third Thursday of the month. Volunteers check on food that has already been donated to the agency, and purchase at their own expense supplementary items. They arrive at 4:00pm, cook at least two entrees, some variety of accompanying dishes, and dessert. They then act as waiters, taking orders from clients and serving food. Because the Cafe allows children from age 14 and up to participate, many families find this project a good way in which to involve their children in tikkun olam. Over the past two years, at least 50 different volunteers have participated in the project, and many more than once. Because we have many interested volunteers, we expect that this project will continue at least another 3-4 years and more. To make sure that volunteers feel comfortable with the program and do a good job, new volunteers are paired with a more experienced volunteer for at least their beginning session, if not more.

Estimated Budget

The Social Action Committee has an annual budget of $150, which is all spent on a cooking project for Mitzvah day, so all money for the Inspiration Cafe is donated by the volunteers working on the program. Over the past two years, at least $1,500 a year have been donated by Emanuelites towards the Cafe.

Dominick's Program

Program Goal and Target Population

A local grocery chain store, Dominick's, as do so many other grocery stores and bakeries, throws out a mountain of day-old or slightly older bakery goods every day, while people in Chicago continue to go hungry. In so many of Chicago's alleys adjacent to such food suppliers dumpsters are filled with food; yet because it is a public nuisance for homeless people to gather at the back of the stores, the police and local merchants chase hungry people away. However, Dominick's recognizes the problem and is willing to donate its old-day bakery goods to local agencies, if volunteers pick up and deliver the goods directly to the agencies. For the past two years, every week, Emanuelites arrive at Dominick's on Broadway, go to the rear of the building, and pick up a vanload of bread, rolls, sweet rolls, and similar items, delivering them to these local shelters and agencies. Through this program, not only do Emanuel volunteers help feed hungry people, but also help prevent an enormous waste of food. As far as we know, we are the only volunteers doing this kind of program in the Chicago area. This program not only accomplishes its goals, but costs nothing, and could so be easily reproduced in any community.