More than a Soup Kitchen: A Just Harvest

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By Lisa McAuliffe

Non-profit organizations are very important in the world because they help others and address worldwide issues, such as poverty and hunger.

In Rogers Park, the non-profit organization A Just Harvest is fighting to stop poverty and hunger in Rogers Park and the Greater Chicago Area by being more than a soup kitchen or a food pantry.

I had the opportunity to talk to the Deputy Director of A Just Harvest, Jan Hubbard, and discuss the non-profit organization as well as the issue of poverty and hunger that Chicago is facing.

How did the organization get started?

In 1983 through Good News Church, which decided to open up and serve food once a week Then A Just Harvest also partnered with another church in Wilmette.

In 2000, A Just Harvest separated from the church and they served meals every night that year – only missing one night where it was so cold that the pipes in the building burst.

How can you get involved with volunteering?

A Just Harvest gets about 5,000 volunteers a year, a lot through church groups, but people come from all over the city, who hear of them and want to serve in the kitchen.

The goal of the soup kitchen is to make guests feel welcome and simulate the feeling of dining in a restaurant, with servers and tablecloths.

Those interested in volunteering can call Maggie Williams, the volunteer coordinator, or reach out online. Volunteers must go through an orientation to better understand the community they are serving.

How can you become a participant?

There are no restrictions to benefiting from the services provided by A Just Harvest, not even an ID or proof of income are required. The one thing we ask if for a zip code so we have a better sense of the communities they are serving.

Also, the kitchen is open every night and the food pantry is open four days a week 3-4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. However, we recommend members bring their own bags, as we frequently run out.

How do you think people can fix the homeless issue in Rogers Park?

We discovered that the question of why members keep coming back kept popping up and decided that the problem could be addressed in four parts

One, people aren’t here because they want to be in this situation- they are here because of injustice.

Two, A Just Harvest saw that poverty has many systemic reasons so they decided we needed to expand their services and started offering career and professional development.

The third part is advocacy, A Just Harvest goes to Springfield and promotes legislators that are helpful to people that are struggling under the poverty level.

And the last part is community development, including agriculture. There is an elementary school near A Just Harvest where there is a greenhouse and we go there and manage the plants and plant production.

A Just Harvest started to expand the greenhouse to a “hoop house,” which is similar to a greenhouse, but also with food production.

Also, we have a refugee garden, which is a garden next to the school. Members teach there and give people the opportunity to garden.

In addition, A Just Harvest also helps with work

development, and we help people who have criminal records and are unemployed. Together, they are putting together their own business related to agriculture, namely landscaping businesses.

Also, members teach classes at elementary schools and organize an after-school ethnic garden club which works with kids to serve in the kitchen, paint walls, and any additional upkeep needed in the building.

What is a memorable story of the non-profit?

The best part is the sense of family and community. I work in the main office until 6 p.m. When it’s cold out, I try to open the doors an hour earlier so that people who come here don’t stand out in the cold. People sit down between 4:30-5:30 p.m. for dinner.

People know each other, play cards, and those that are unemployed even help serve in the kitchen.

The sense of community here is very strong. I live in Northbrook and when I leave home I don’t see or talk to anyone but when I get out of my car to go to work here, I’m always greeted by someone asking me how I’m doing, and when I asked them in turn, they reply “I am blessed.”

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