GARFIELD PARK — When the Hideout announced it would close because of coronavirus, bartender Jessica Romanowski knew she would land on her feet.
The bar and music venue was one of the first to create an online tip jar to help pay employees during the closure, and bargoers were generous — donating more than $28,700. But Romanowski, a private chef by day and bartender by night, knew many in the service industry wouldn’t be as lucky, so she’s putting her chef skills to work, delivering care packages of meals to people who need them.
Called Care Kitchen Chicago, Romanowski launched her own GoFundMe to help fund the project. As of Friday morning, she’s raised $2,500 of her $5,000 goal on GoFundMe and has raised another $900 in other donations.
Romanowski prepares the meals at food business incubator Hatchery Chicago. Windy City Harvest, ERIS Brewery and Cider House and Soup & Bread have also donated veggies and other ingredients for her to make the meals.
With the resources she’d been gifted, Romanowski was able to deliver her first round of packages to 20 people this week. Each care package included two hot meals, a sandwich with a side, a lush salad, a dessert and a savory baked good — enough food for three to four meals, she said.
“None of us have any idea how long this situation will last,” she said. “I would love to give people a bag of food as long as this is happening so long as I am healthy.”
Many of out-of-work employees live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the money to pay bills or put food on the table, she said.
“A lot of the people that I’m giving care packages needed help even before this,” said Romanowski, who lives in Garfield Park.
The first care packages included a vegan curry with rice and chicken and dumplings as entrees. In the future, Romanowski plans to include a rich, nutritious broth-based meal in each package, along with items like grilled chicken, cheddar biscuits and scones — all while being mindful of the specific dietary restrictions of the recipient.
“The things that I’m cooking are supposed to be nourishing people that are supposed to be taking care of themselves,” she said. “But it’s still giving them cookies because I want them to also feel comfort and joy and pleasure.”
Care Kitchen Chicago is still accepting donations so the project can grow to serve more people, especially impacted service workers, older adults and immunocompromised people vulnerable to the virus. Romanowski also applied for mutual aid funding for bartenders out of work. If she is awarded the money, she’ll use half of it to keep Care Kitchen Chicago going.
Romanowski, a one-woman kitchen, hopes to serve 10 new people each week. She’s seeking volunteers to help, too — the Hatchery has closed its commercial kitchens to all but current members, so sous chefs to help her make the meals are absent.
“I spent over eight hours just cutting vegetables. And so if I had an extra set of hands, I could have gotten through that a lot easier,” she said.
Volunteers are needed to shop for ingredients and help with prep work.
She’s also in need on plastic containers for the meals.
To donate to Care Kitchen Chicago, visit the project’s GoFundMe.
To volunteer or get meals delivered, contact Romanowski to volunteer or to get meals delivered by Care Kitchen Chicago reach out at CareKitchenChicago@gmail.com
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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