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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Kenwood Food Project Helps High Schoolers And Struggling Local Restaurants

Linda Swift's program, through which donors buy gift cards from restaurants for Kenwood Academy students, may soon gain the backing of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

A pizza from Medici's on 57th in Hyde Park.
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HYDE PARK — Hyde Parker Linda Swift has found a way to help both kids and local restaurants in need.

Swift recently started the Kenwood Food Project, which delivers restaurant gift cards to Kenwood Academy students. Swift, a photographer and mother of Kenwood graduates, started calling local restaurants in late March to see if they wanted to participate.

“I’m concerned about the restaurant workers, because I feel like I know some of them,” Swift said. “You see these people over and over again and feel a connection to them.”

The five restaurants partnering in the project are:

  • Pizza Capri, 1501 E. 53rd St., which matches $10 on every $50 card donated.
  • Medici on 57th, 1327 E. 57th St., which matches $5 on every $50 card.
  • Nando’s, 1447 E. 53rd St., which adds a voucher for two free entrees to each card of $25 or more.
  • Roti Modern Mediterranean, 1526 E. 53rd St., which adds a buy-one-get-one-free voucher to each card of $25 or more.
  • Domino’s, 1453 E. Hyde Park Blvd.

Cards can be ordered over the phone at Pizza Capri and Medici. Nando’s and Roti do not accept credit card information over the phone, but both are open for takeout service, where you can order gift cards in person. You can call Domino’s at 773-324-3800 for instructions on donating a gift card online.

Donors can also purchase gift cards from other local restaurants and arrange with Swift by email to drop them off. The project will continue through the coronavirus pandemic.

About 25 cards have been donated as of Tuesday, according to Swift. Kenwood counselors decide who receives the gift cards because they “know the kids and know which families are in need,” she said.

Credit: Provided
The Kenwood Food Project flyer, designed by Kenwood Academy student .

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club is set to take oversight of the Kenwood Food Program in the next couple weeks, director Angela Habr-Paranjape said. With the nonprofit’s backing, donations to the program will be tax-deductible.

Also, “in pooling the dollars … we can purchase gift cards from restaurants in increments that can be helpful to families,” Habr-Paranjape said. “What families need is the ability to purchase a full meal,” which an individual donor may not be able to provide.

Beyond the food program, Swift maintains connections to the school’s students and faculty through The Chalkboard Project. Her photos of students in front of their favorite quotes hang in Kenwood’s hallways and were displayed at the Harold Washington Library in 2015.

The photo project began in 2007 and was originally meant to coincide with President Barack Obama’s first term in office. It’s now lasted more than a decade.

“I still know the security guards and the prinicpal … and I certainly know there are kids and families at Kenwood who are food insecure at a time like this,” Swift said.

The Kenwood Food Project is just one of many ways Hyde Park neighbors have organized to help others during the coronavirus outbreak, Swift said.

She hopes the neighborhood’s “homegrown projects” continue to “sprout and expand” through donations of supplies, money and effort.

“So many people in Hyde Park have a sense of social responsibility,” Swift said. “This pandemic is definitely bringing out that spirit.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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