Benefit Committee Chairs (left to right), Kate Compernolle, Emily Sharpe, Joan Kerr and Thekla Metz.Photo by Heidi Randhava

Meals at Home held its 2018 benefit, “Celebrate: 50 Years of Feeding Our Neighbors,” May 4 at the Evanston Art Center at 1717 Central St. The benefit,  which is the organization’s largest fund-raising event of the year, raised over $57,000, said Executive Director Debi Genthe. The funds will be used to help Meals at Home provide nutritious meals, medically prescribed diets and other support services to clients who are homebound, elderly, disabled or temporarily unable to access nutritional food.

About 150 guests enjoyed wine, artisanal food and live jazz while bidding on Silent Auction items. Then Meals at Home Board President Warren Lupel formally welcomed the enthusiastic crowd, acknowledging former board members and volunteers whose years of service spanned nearly a quarter century.

Ms. Genthe and President-Elect Connie Wood honored the past, present and future of Meals at Home in their remarks. Ms. Wood took the attendees back a half-century to the days when the non-profit was just beginning.

“In 1968, a group of concerned and passionate citizens decided it was really important that we start working to help people who could not cook for themselves,” said Ms. Wood.

Working with Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County and Hecky Powell, a CEDA staff member at the time, the group reached out to Saint Francis Hospital CEO Sister Mary Alfreda Bracht, who arranged for the hospital kitchen to prepare meals for home delivery. Lillian Fitz-Simmons became the first President of the Board, and Meals at Home made its first deliveries to residents of Evanston and adjacent areas of Chicago.

Early volunteers were recruited and trained, delivery routes laid out and schedules drawn up long before cell phones, GPS, and the Internet made the jobs of today’s volunteers much easier. Despite challenges, Meals at Home has provided meals to its clients every day for the past 50 years. In the rare instances when weather conditions might interfere with delivery, clients receive double meals to ensure that they always have food in the home.

“In all these 50 years there have been only two days where we have not delivered as scheduled, both of them for severe blizzards,” Ms. Wood said. Last year, the board initiated Blizzard Boxes, two shelf-stable meals that can be saved for just such emergencies. Other recent initiatives include the Friendly Visit program and a Shopping Assistance program. With the help of more than 400 volunteers, Meals
at Home currently serves more than 250 clients, serving some 52,000 meals annually.

Food insecurity is more common in America than some might think. “Nationally, one in six seniors struggles to access food. It’s a problem that’s not unique to our area,” said Ms. Genthe. Over the years, the organization has expanded its services to meet the needs of residents of Evanston, Wilmette, Skokie, Glencoe, Glenview, Kenilworth, North Chicago, Northbrook, Northfield, Waukegan, Winnetka, Winthrop Harbor and Zion. In 2017, Meals at Home subsidized over $250,000 in meals, paid for by private donations and grants. That amount covered nearly 70% of their clients who could not pay the full cost themselves.

“This work doesn’t happen just at board meetings. It requires the support of the community,” Ms. Genthe said in her remarks. Each year, she said, Meals at Home asks locally known community members to deliver meals during national Meals on Wheels Community Champions Week. Evanston-Skokie District 65 Superintendent Dr. Paul Goren and Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham are this year’s Community Champions.

Ms. Genthe recognizes the potential for expansion of services provided by Meals at Home to meet a growing need in many communities. “We’re doing a feasibility study. We’re looking at the possibility of being able to produce our own food. There could potentially be a lot of collaborative work with other area non-profits. If we can all work together, it would be more of a community kitchen concept,” she said.

Hecky Powell, a recognized community leader and early supporter of Meals at Home, was named Honorary Chair of the 2018 Benefit. Referencing both the past and future of Meals at Home, Mr. Powell said, “It was needed back then. I think it’s needed even more so today. And I’m excited it’s still in existence.”

Meals at Home has been hosting special events throughout the year to commemorate 50 years of meal delivery and service to the Evanston community and throughout the North Shore. A complete list of anniversary events is available at

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.