Review the 2019 Resource Guide.
Overview of Our Programs and Services
Every Wednesday evening, The Chicago Help Initiative (CHI) gathers at the dining hall at 721 North LaSalle Street to serve a warm meal on white-clothed tables to 130 guests in a safe and dignified setting. An additional 70 individuals receive a bag meal to go. The nutritious and delicious food is provided by local restaurants and hotels from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and River North areas.
We use the meal to draw in those who are hungry and in need, and at the meal provide them with three additional important things: information, access to the best social service agencies we know and connection and positive companionship. We don't duplicate services that others already provide well – we just connect to them efficiently.
Guests are given an opportunity to participate with several ongoing programs before or after dinner, which have included adult learning, yoga, GED tutoring, art classes and bicycle repair. These programs are intended to cultivate positive peer relationships and facilitate maintaining contact with our guests, through shared interests, as we work to connect them back into networks that can help improve their lives.
CHI’s mission is to assist our guests in bettering their lives and becoming contributing members of the community again. We are very much a local organization, drawing our support from the residents and businesses that surround us. We have a very small staff, but every meal is served with upwards of 35 volunteers. CHI is an organization that succeeds by leveraging existing partnerships and resources.
Our meals are either donated or purchased at discount from area restaurants and hotels. Examples of donors include True Food, Gene and Georgetti, Hyatt, Benny’s Steakhouse, Texas de Brazil and Eli’s Cheesecake.
At most every meal we invite a speaker from a local service agency to talk on a topic relevant to our guests, such as job training, housing, and health services. Speakers remain for the duration of the meal to connect with those who are interested in further assistance.
Every meal we have an overflow crowd. To accommodate this we provide an extra 70 takeaway bag meals for those who are unable to join the sit-down meal.
Employment Resources and Jobs Club
CHI provides help with resumes and cover letters and information on job opportunities and procuring needed documentation to those who need only limited help, and referral into job training programs for those who need more assistance.
Our trained education volunteers provide one-on-one tutoring to our guests on a variety of subjects such as computer skills, reading, writing, math, GED preparation, and storytelling. The hour-long sessions take place prior to our meal.
Art with a Heart
In partnership with Chicago Sinai Congregation, and staffed by a professional artist and volunteers, our guests gather for two hours before the meal to work with different mediums, including paint, collage and mixed media. The program covers a variety of themes and encourages both expression and connection. Artists also have the opportunity to participate in several shows each year.
Chicago Culture Program
We host regular outings for a group of our guests to some of the finest cultural and entertainment venues Chicago has to offer. Museum visits, theater performances, films and an architectural boat tour are among the outings our guests enjoyed. Each visit is followed by a meal and a group discussion that is intended to stimulate intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and provide a sense of possibility in our guests of their own potential to improve their situation.
Before each meal, a certified yoga instructor teaches a chair yoga class – focusing on flexibility and wellness. This has been of particular value to guests with limited mobility or access to exercise resources.
Staffed by our partner organization, Harmony, Hope and Healing, before every meal a choir of our guests sings together, as well as at several concerts in different venues during the year.
Every spring in partnership with Working Bikes, we give away refurbished bikes (along with locks and helmets) to our guests who want to use bikes as transportation, employment access and exercise.
Twice a year, CHI produces a sturdy pocket-sized booklet that steers our guests and others in need to the best social service agencies we know of. The guide is sponsored by The Chicago Loop Alliance, the Magnificent Mile Foundation, The Chicago Association of Realtors, The River North Residents Association, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents and RAM Racing. It is distributed by CHI and numerous other organizations, including churches, community groups, emergency rooms and shelters.
At each meal there is a cadre of volunteer medical professionals, including doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and students, who team with a nurse practitioner from Night Ministry to staff a medical assistance area. The most important thing they do is connect with guests and strive to connect them into primary care settings. In addition, they also provide advice and consultation, blood pressure readings, HIV/Hep C testing, blood sugar, wound care and a foot clinic.
Accompanying the medical assistance area, there is a trained social worker who refers guests to other identified resources, including clothes, legal, food pantries and other needs This social worker is shared with our partner, Catholic Charities.
We dedicate a few moments at each meal to wish and sing happy birthday to our guests who are celebrating their birthdays. Each celebrant is given a birthday card along with a gift card. It is sometimes the only acknowledgment individuals have of this life milestone.
Each holiday season, we provide gift cards to our guests that they can use to purchase what they need.
To provide our guests the opportunty to give, to reconnect and show appreciation for those they care for, we host an annual bazaar of donated gently used and new items, all costing less than a quarter to purchase, along with gift wrapping service.
In addition to speakers at each of the meals, we occasionally schedule bingo for a fun way for our guests to enjoy themselves. Bingo prizes, donated, range from Nike running shoes to passes to 360 Chicago at the John Hancock Observatory.
CHI distributes free books and magazines at every meal.
Every meal a group of guests sits togther before and during the meal and knits with donated supplies.
Holiday Cards and Placemats
Students from St. Francis Xavier Warde create greeting cards as well as cheerful placemats for each holiday for our guests.
For more information about becoming a meal sponsor or volunteer, or to make a donation to The Chicago Help Initiative, please visit our website at www.chicagohelpinitiative.org.