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CHIL's Culinary Department provides nutritious meals to youth experiencing homelessness.

Access to food is a basic human right. More than necessary sustenance, food is an essential community conduit which fuels hope and makes opportunities possible for youth.

Food deserts and rising food prices across the US are making it increasingly hard for young people to access the healthy meals they need. The greater Chicago Food Depository reports that one in four children experience food insecurity – a lack of consistent access to adequate, nutritious food due to a set of circumstances. CHIL addresses the needs of our young people by providing warm, healthy meals (both in-hour and to go), remaining a constant resource they can always count on.

Eric Martin is the newest member of the CHIL Culinary team, heading up the menu and meal plans for CHIL’s commercial-grade kitchen. Prior to joining CHIL, Eric spent the previous six years of his career in several well-known restaurants in downtown Chicago before he learned about the opening and CHIL’s work supporting youth. “I learned about CHIL from my mom who worked at another nonprofit organization in the neighborhood, and I knew I had to apply. [Since he began working at CHIL] It feels so good to get up and come to work every day knowing I am making a difference. When you are doing what you love, time flies”.

“I love knowing that through my job I’m making a difference every day. I’ve gotten to know a lot of youth and their stories; I take time to listen to them and that’s what keeps me motivated to do what I can to make their lives a little bit easier”.

At CHIL, meals and snacks are always available for youth to take on-the-go, an opportunity not available at many community kitchens throughout Chicago. Making meals available gives young people the chance to be prepared for work or school regardless of unusual schedules such as working the nightshift. This allows youth to put their best foot forward, without being distracted by where their next meal will come from.

“For youth who are working the night shift or who are away in school all day long, I keep a list and am sure to have those meals for them ready to go. I’m happy to take that extra step so they are prepared to get what they need done."

When a young person first arrives at CHIL, meeting with a clinical case-manager to evaluate their needs is one of the first steps in our intake process. “Right away, we want to learn what their immediate needs are. Often that’s a warm meal, or a shower and or a change of clothes,” says Arvette, CHIL Case Manager. “Once we meet these immediate needs, we can move on to how else we can help them.”

Beverly Williams, CHIL’s Steet Outreach and Aftercare Coordinator, sees every day how important our culinary team is for the young people we serve. “Even after Youth move out of the residential program and into their own living accommodations,” says Beverly, “we sometimes see them come back to access meals they need. We are so glad to see them again, and that we can remain a support for them as they continue to build independence but might need some help here or there between paychecks to access what they need to keep going. We will always be a reliable and consistent place where they can come for a warm and nutritious meal.”

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