Evanston residents going from homelessness to housing of their own and the City’s struggling restaurant industry both look to win out under a pilot meals-delivery program announced Jan. 5 between Evanston’s Connections for the Homeless and Cook County.

At a press conference held at Lake Street Church, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle joined Connections for the Homeless Executive Director Betty Bogg, local officials, and community partners to announce $50,000 in private donations for a pilot program to deliver meals purchased from local restaurants and chefs to the homes of recently housed individuals and families.

The pilot, made possible through seed funding of $30,000 provided by Cook County through Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) dollars last November, demonstrates Cook County's continuing commitment to join with partners to help those in need during the pandemic,  Ms. Preckwinkle  said.

“These efforts represent a unique partnership,” she said. “Our work with Connections for the Homeless is a great example of the good that can come when private, public and nonprofit sectors partner to solve our problems. The scope of this partnership is also unique. It addresses intersecting issues – housing, food insecurity, and economic relief. This holistic approach demonstrates Cook County's commitment to helping communities in need, work toward an equitable recovery.”

The project is initially projected to run 13 weeks, providing 60 vulnerable neighbors with two meals a day through the end of February, County officials said in a release.

The program will also draw on support from local business leaders and philanthropists to infuse a total of $80,000 into local restaurants, officials said.

Major donors named at the press conference included Byline Bank, NorthShore University HealthCare System, Rotary International; the Lewis Sebring Family Foundation, former Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, and Joe Flanagan, Chairman of the Cook County Health Foundation, an Evanston resident who owns Acquirent, a local company.

At the press conference, Ms. Bogg said the support will help the agency takes its meals program “to the next level” as it moves homeless families and individuals out of hotels and into their own homes.

“We know that homelessness requires a community response,” Ms. Bogg said. “And this partnership exemplifies what's possible when every forward thinking government, engaged philanthropists, supportive businesses, and determined nonprofits step forward and work together. Initiatives like these highlight that when we help one neighbor.”

Flanagan Played Key Role

 

Ms. Bogg credited Mr. Flanagan, also at the press conference, with providing the inspiration for the partnership.

Connections for the Homeless, which draws on a large volunteer force, was already sheltering families and individuals in local hotels after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Shelter-in-Place order went into effect in March.

“And we quickly had to find ways to safely feed the nearly 300 people, 70 of them children who were in our care,” Ms. Bogg explained. “That's when we started our restaurant partner program.

“So when Joe called me in the fall and said ‘Betty, I have an idea of how we can feed the folks you are serving and also help our struggling restaurants,’

I was happy to listen,” Ms. Bogg recalled.

“Joe's inspired idea builds on a program we were already operating,” she said.

Speaking after Ms. Bogg, Mr. Flanagan played down the praise. He said when he approached Connections, “they were already working closely with our restaurants, which are in desperate need of help as well. 

“So the idea was to build their capacity in serving the folks that needed so much help,” he said.

“I own a business in town. I was raised here in Evanston, and I don't want to come back into this town to have a bunch of shuttered doors in terms of restaurants and small businesses,” he said. “So this was an opportunity to create some economic money flowing through the system and again.”

At the press conference, Q. Ibraheem (“Chef Q”), a local chef, former restaurant owner, and caterer, praised the project.

“When we got the call to feed local residents from Connections, it was a no-brainer,” she said. “I'm honored to be here, because this is a direct response to a crisis. At a time of war, we will call on our army; and at a time of food insecurity and hunger, you’ve chosen to call on your chefs and restaurateurs, which is a brilliant partnership because this means that we've created a sustainable environment.”

“This has allowed me to retain some of my employees, as well as contribute to the economic growth of our economy,” Ms. Ibraheem said. “We've been able to partner with small farms, local purveyors, local artisans within our community. So it’s allowed everyone to be able to grab some funding and get money that will help them support their households and their families, their children and the elders, as well. I'm completely honored by this.”

County-Connections Partnership

In addition to the pilot program, Cook County and Connections for the Homeless officials referred to the strong partnership the two have formed seeking to deliver other essential services to Cook County residents amid the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Cook County has provided funding to contribute to the continuum of services Connections offers ranging from eviction prevention, to shelter, and housing programs,” County officials said in their release.

Connections officials say of the $3.3 in CARES funds the County has dispersed through the agency, $1.8 million has gone toward shelter support, $800,000 to eviction prevention funding, and $700,000 in rental assistance funding for households transitioning from homelessness  into housing of their own.

“It’s beyond just money,” said Nia Tavoularis, Director of Development for the agency. “”There’s a deep respect on what each side of the partnership brings to the table.”

The video from today’s event can be found at www.facebook.com/presidentpreckwinkle.