Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a crazy idea? And then by morning, you think you can actually do it?
Well, that's what happened to me in June 2018. At the time I had a successful cooking blog, MommaChef.com, with more than 80,000 followers. It features recipes using six ingredients or less and prepared in six minutes or less. I also was busy writing articles for dozens of magazines and working with various companies to develop recipes using their products.
All of this would have been a dream come true for most food bloggers, but I didn't feel complete. Something was missing. It was that aha moment at 3 a.m. when I realized that I wanted to focus more time and energy into helping others. And what could be more perfect than opening a soup kitchen to feed the needy?
[Related: Make kindness a daily act with your kids]
Once the idea came to me, I was determined to make it happen. Over the next few months, I researched what was needed to help the under-resourced people in the Chicago area. I quickly found a facility that was willing to donate its space to house the Soup Kitchen. I created a business plan, held fundraisers to offset the costs, and designed menus to feed more than 100 people. Within four months, in October 2018, Momma Chef's Soup Kitchen opened its doors at Congregation KINS in West Rogers Park.
Each Tuesday evening, Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen provides a 5-course homemade hot meal to anyone who comes to our doors. We also deliver 70 meals to two local shelters. That middle-of-the-night idea has provided over 15,000 meals since opening our doors. What makes this soup kitchen unique is that I was determined to run it with no overhead other than the cost of food and security. The Soup Kitchen needs more than 600 volunteers/year to prepare and serve the meals. And every person involved, including myself and members of my family, donates their time.*
During the start of COVID in April of 2020, when I passed by a neighborhood little free library box, the notion that I could help address food insecurity around the city in the same manner as the library boxes struck me. I decided that day that I wanted to start a “Momma Chef Little Free Pantry Movement” in Chicago, providing 24-hour non-perishable food to anyone in need. It took around a year to get everything in place, and in May 2021, I opened my first pantry at West Ridge Community Methodist Church. My son, who is a junior in high school, is in charge of running the pantry for me. We keep the pantry stocked daily with healthy non-perishable food such as peanut butter, cans of fruit, cans of soups and stews, cans of tuna, chicken, etc. It’s a wonderful way for people in need to take food anonymously at any time of the day.
With the success of the first pantry, I am going to be installing more pantries around the city in the next couple of months: My next two will be at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, and New Beginnings Church in West Woodlawn. I want to encourage everyone that if there is something you believe in — a cause that taps your shoulder or keeps you awake at night — believe in yourself! One person truly can make a difference.
You can find me at www.mommachef.com. I am keeping busy with my blog, Soup Kitchen, Food Pantries, and I plan to publish a cookbook in 2022 with my delicious “6 under 6” recipes, with proceeds going to these projects.
*If you're interested in volunteering at the Soup Kitchen, you are more than welcome! Kids 11 and up are welcome, too. Here's how.