Pilsen Community Helps Feed Those in Need With Rising Grocery Prices

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Courtesy of Nicolas Nova (Flickr CC0)

Jesus Galvan, a vendor in Pilsen, understands what it’s like to go to bed hungry. He spent more than a year roaming the streets looking for a hot meal and a place to rest his head. Galvan struggled with substance abuse and financial instability. He received assistance from strangers who helped guide him and his family back onto his feet.

Now he and his wife, Mercedes, help those who are down on their luck and in need of food. They understand what it’s like to be in their shoes and how precious a lending hand can be. Every week, they close their restaurant on Racine Avenue and 47th Street early in the morning and make tamales to give out to the homeless and others in need of food.

Since November 2021, the family has made roughly 200 tamales to donate to a community dinner every Tuesday at Hope Church. As inflation increases, prices hit families, especially those already struggling with basic needs. These dinners saved families and became necessary for the community.

The church dinner feeds over 100 people. For a few, it is the only meal they get all week. For some, it may be the only time they aren’t alone. Instead, they eat with others who share the same or similar experiences.

Courtesy of Rui Duarte (Flickr CC0)

The homeless aren’t the only ones who go hungry or feel lonely, Guzman had stated as she and Galvan passed out tamales. It’s a space for older people who live alone, single people, families struggling, and even if people might have good jobs: The dinner is for everyone in the Pilsen community.

They say they’re grateful for what they have now and are so happy to help those who are in need, Guzman said. The couple wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare the pork and chicken tamales with green and red salsa.

From the program’s start to now, the number of attendees has nearly doubled this summer, said Benjamin Arias, a church member and head chef of the community dinners in Pilsen. He worked in the restaurant industry for more than 10 years before volunteering his time at the church.

It all started with hosting a Taco Tuesday for about 30 people. The dinners are now full-course meals. Although the menu is determined by what they get from donations, they usually serve traditional Mexican foods, Arias stated. He added that they try to make the menu reflect the community they serve.

A large group of volunteers of the Hope Church, a Christian institution in La Grange that has multiple campuses in the Chicago area, started mobilizing so they could find a way to help those in need. After COVID-19 disproportionately affected communities of color in 2020, church leaders decided to invest in a building with a commercial kitchen: They chose their Pilsen campus at 1809 South Racine Avenue.

As all shops, stores, and communities started reopening after COVID-19, the need for basics became more evident. Those already struggling to put food on the table became even more hungry once inflation hit, stated Dawn Kooistra, a Hope Church senior pastor.

The church has a large vision to open buildings to host other communities of dinners throughout the Chicagoland area. They want to help other neighborhoods as they did in Pilsen and Marquette Park communities.

Written by Zaylah De La Torre

Edited by Sheena Robertson


Chicago Tribune: As prices at grocery stores rise, a community dinner in Pilsen helps to feed those in need and unites: ‘We know what it feels like to be hungry;’ bLaura Rodríguez Presa

Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago food pantries are serving more people but seeing fewer volunteers; by Elvia Malagon

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Nicolas Nova‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Insert Image Courtesy to Rui Duarte’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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