With Thanksgiving just a day away, most people are making last minute grocery runs and preparing for friends and family to come celebrate. Residents at Mercy Housing Lakefront and Living Room Café, however, had the opportunity to celebrate as a community early and Chicago Cares volunteers were there to help!

On November 17th,  nine volunteers assisted in serving families at Mercy Housing Lakefront’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner. Each year Mercy Housing provides a delicious southern meal to residents at their community center, emphasizing the agencies’ mission to provide program-enriched housing for low-income families. This year, Chicago Cares volunteers were welcomed to help at the event, assisting with setting tables, serving meals, and playing with the children once dinner was over. Many of the children also asked volunteers to participate in their “I’m Thankful For…” tree, where colorful leaves noted that many were thankful for family, friends, good health, and a warm home. Residents left happy and full, and volunteers left wanting to come back to Mercy Housing again. In total, 18+ hours of volunteer hours were recorded and more than 100 people were served a fantastic meal.

Volunteers made that dinner smooth and easy for the staff and residents at Mercy Housing, but the opportunity for impact at this agency is even greater. Each Thursday evening Chicago Cares hosts ongoing education programs, supporting 20-30 children in their pursuit of academic excellence at Read-with-Me and Kids Create. Just one short hour each week provides individual attention and support, promoting positive attitudes towards learning and encouraging creativity. Over the course of a school year, almost 200 volunteers are needed to support these young children’s growth at 30+ project dates. The commitment of just one hour a week helps support the small staff at Mercy Housing as they work to improve their student’s grades and test scores, increase confidence and build self-esteem.

Last week volunteers assisted Living Room Café in prepping and cooking food for their annual Thanksgiving Community Meal. Living Room Café’s Annual Thanksgiving Meal is an all day affair held each Saturday before Thanksgiving, feeding nearly 350 low-income and homeless community members throughout the Woodlawn community. Chicago Cares volunteers cook and prep food for the dinner in shifts throughout the week leading up to the dinner.

Volunteers made the 19th a Saturday filled with fun, laughter, and delicious food in a laid back restaurant environment, where guests were able to enjoy a hearty meal and sparkling conversation with one another. The impact of Living Room Café and Chicago Cares volunteers is felt all year long throughout the Woodlawn community. Every 1st and 3rd Saturday Chicago Cares volunteers cook and serve breakfast for 25-30 community members that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, in addition to cooking and serving dinner every 2nd Wednesday. At each project, volunteers not only help meet hunger needs in Woodlawn, but do so in a respectful and dignified manner, serving community members in a restaurant style environment. Throughout 2011 Chicago Cares volunteers have dedicated 2,100 hours towards meeting hunger needs in the Woodlawn community while serving nearly 1,200 meals.

Today’s post is by Education Coordinator, Emily Collins and Human Service Senior Coordinator, Thomas Toney.