Keith Belton (left), a volunteer for Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, said he wanted to give back after receiving life changing services provided by Connections for the Homeless. Vince Gerasole, reporter and anchor for CBS 2 Chicago, emceed the event. Photo by Heidi Randhava

A record crowd of more than 500 people attended the fourth annual Taste of Evanston on July 8 from 4 to 7 p.m. on the east lawn of the Charles Gates Dawes House, home of the Evanston History Center. Guests enjoyed food and drink from 40 of Evanston’s most celebrated restaurants, breweries and wine purveyors in a garden party setting with a view of Greenwood Street Beach and Lake Michigan. This year’s event was themed “Hungry for Home” and featured live jazz provided by the Jonah Karsh Quartet and CBS 2 Chicago TV news anchor Vince Gerasole as emcee.

Sponsored by the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, the event raised more than $50,000 for charitable causes. The majority of the evening’s proceeds will support Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corp. Connections is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and families who are homeless or threatened with homelessness to achieve stable housing; Reba Place Development Corp. has a mission to develop safe, decent and affordable housing that demonstrates how the diverse racial and cultural groups in Evanston can thrive together. The organization also sponsors a range of affordable housing options, including modestly priced rental units, housing co-ops, and affordable condominiums.

Keith Belton, who was once homeless, gave a moving account of how Connections for the Homeless helped him “learn how to live” as he transitioned to housing that is not only affordable, but also safe. Mr. Belton said he now pays his own rent, cooks his own food, and pays his bills while also giving back to the organization by volunteering with its advocacy arm, Joining Forces for Affordable Housing.

Connections for the Homeless Executive Director Betty Bogg said, “We are honored to be selected this year by the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary as a recipient of the proceeds from the Taste of Evanston. This will go directly to support our homelessness prevention, shelter and housing programs.”

Adrian Willoughby, Executive Director of Reba Place Development Corp., announced that Reba Place will name a community space after the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club.

Speaking to the crowd gathered under a big white tent on the grounds of the historic mansion that was once home to the 30th U.S. vice president, Mayor Stephen Hagerty said, “Taste of Evanston should be called Best of Evanston…we have the best restaurants, the best nonprofit organizations, and the best neighbors, who have come out for this event.”