UChicago partners with South Side caterers to provide 50,000 additional free meals to the community

food workers meal prep

Second phase of Community Support Initiative will also support small business and nonprofits

Starting this week, the University of Chicago will partner with locally-owned South Side caterers to provide 50,000 free meals over seven weeks to local residents, as well as provide additional assistance to small businesses and nonprofits navigating a landscape shaped by the ongoing pandemic and protests for racial justice. Through this effort, the University will continue to support the local community at a time of great economic and social pressure, while creating opportunities for South Side caterers who have seen a dramatic decrease in business as a result of the pandemic.

The effort is the second phase of UChicago’s Community Support Initiative, which provided free meals, grants to small businesses and nonprofits, rent relief to University tenants, and support for health care workers and patients at UChicago Medicine. The first phase of the Community Support Initiative officially ended June 12 but, given the ongoing public health and economic challenges, the University is launching a second phase of assistance.

“When the University first introduced the Community Support Initiative, the idea was to leverage the University’s strength as a South Side anchor and close the resource gap for our neighbors who were struggling as they waited for help from other sources,” said Derek Douglas, UChicago’s Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs. “Thanks to donors and partners who stepped up, we will be able to build on the success of this initiative’s first phase. While we recognize that this expanded effort won’t be able to address every issue our shared community is facing in this moment of great need, we’re pleased to have an opportunity to continue to make an impact.”

The second phase of the initiative will include the following elements:

New Meal Distribution Program

From June 22 to August 9, UChicago will work closely with catering businesses on the South Side to prepare and distribute 1,000 meals per day to approximately 15 distribution sites, many of which serve seniors and other vulnerable populations who are susceptible to COVID-19.

“It’s really like a lifeline for us because all of our business was cancelled. We did festivals in the summer; we did weddings and meetings and none of that’s happening. It’s like you went to bed having a really good quarter and you woke up and you have nothing. We’re very appreciative of the University for reaching out to small businesses like mine because it’s going to be a big help for us in trying to refocus and get back online as the economy opens,” said Renee Bradford, president of C'est Si Bon catering, which has locations in Bronzeville and on the West Side.

The majority of the food distribution sites are senior buildings open only to residents of those facilities. Distribution sites that are open to the public are listed below:

  • Hyde Park SDA Soup Kitchen, 4608 S. Drexel Blvd., Hyde Park
  • Inner City Mission, 7445 S. South Chicago Ave., Greater Grand Crossing
  • YWCA, 6600 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Woodlawn

Expanded Small Business Support

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation expanded its Small Business Growth Program by adding a cohort this summer to support 21 companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business owners will receive free consulting services from 21 University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students on ways to adapt and grow their businesses in these challenging times.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every business—both big and small,” said E.J. Reedy, senior director of the Polsky Exchange at the Polsky Center. “We knew we needed to add new programming to help the businesses in our community navigate these times.”

In partnership with the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, the Polsky Center is additionally offering monthly virtual gatherings as a way for local small business owners to connect with one another and work with professionally-trained business coaches. The peer-to-peer nature of these Small Business Circles have become a valuable way for business owners to share best practices and get support from other business owners who are experiencing the same challenges they are.

In addition, all of the Polsky’s Centers educational workshops and training programs are now offered virtually and many of them are recorded and made accessible on the Polsky Center website, including the Polsky Small Business Bootcamp. Additionally, Community Business Workshops will continue to be held monthly and are open to all local business owners.

Expanded Nonprofit Support

The Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Programs Accelerator, which leverages a full range of the University’s institutional resources to support established and emerging community-based nonprofits, will match UChicago student consultants with nonprofit grant recipients from the first wave of the initiative on project-specific requests. Past work has included identifying best online practices and curriculum content delivery strategies, developing guidance on reopening, virtual fundraising event planning, and other operational and programmatic assistance.

The Accelerator will additionally begin offering its full capacity-building services to critical business support organizations such as local Chambers of Commerce, as well as to other grassroots groups that support block clubs and other neighborhood organizations. A virtual workshop series for nonprofits is ongoing, and a monthly education series open to anyone in Chicago will resume in July. To learn more about this work, please visit coronavirusupdates.uchicago.edu/community-support.

Community Support Initiative

Since it went live on March 30, UChicago’s Community Support Initiative has served as an immediate bridge to help those impacted by the pandemic. In the first phase of the initiative, the University provided nearly 260,000 meals to community members struggling with food insecurity - 35,000 more than the original commitment - and awarded $1.3 million in emergency bridge grants to more than 200 small businesses and 79 community-based nonprofits on the South Side - $300,000 more than the original commitment. Funds for bridge grants and meals included a $250,000 grant for the University’s Community Support Initiative provided by the Chicago Bears and Bears Care, the team’s charitable arm. The initiative also provided rent relief to 27 University small business tenants and established a campaign to support local UChicago Medicine health care workers, as well as the patients and families. 

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