WEST GARFIELD PARK — A restaurant serving fresh, hot soul food has opened on the West Side — and all the food is free.
The Healthy Hot Free Meals restaurant provides free food for people in need and those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Founder Jermaine Jordan is raising money on GoFundMe so he can continue providing food to anybody who needs it.
For Jordan, the free meals are a way to improve food access in one of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Many businesses in West Garfield Park shut down over the summer, driving up the already staggering rates of unemployment and poverty in the area.
But many people were struggling to find healthy and affordable food to eat since long before the pandemic, Jordan said.
“Every day people come. They’re hungry. They want food and groceries because around here… it’s a food desert. You gotta go to Oak Park to get nice food,” Jordan said.
Jordan had been feeding community members even before he opened Healthy Hot Free Meals.
Jordan was regularly bringing meals to homeless encampments near Harrison Street and California Avenue, and to two shelters in the area. He also owns a neighborhood carwash, White Diamond Bubbles, 4532 W. Madison. Since many people experiencing homelessness often gathered around his business, he started making more and more food for them.
Taking care of the community has always been a core value for Jordan. His father was a chef who taught him to cook, so feeding people is his way of showing care for those in need. He is a West Side native who grew up in the Henry Horner public housing project in a family with 19 children.
“I knew what it meant to share and have the heart to help other people,” he said.
The Healthy Hot Free Meals restaurant was launched with profits earned at his carwash. A fundraiser to sustain the free restaurant has gathered more than $13,000, but Jordan is hoping to raise more money since the need for food in the area has only intensified as the pandemic resurges.
“It’s bigger than the pandemic. Even before, I was going out and feeding the homeless. But the pandemic made it worse,” he said.
The restaurant has also been helping provide hotel accommodations to people experiencing homelessness who have been exposed or infected with COVID-19 and need to isolate, Jordan said.
Jordan hired six employees to help run the restaurant. Many of the workers are people Jordan fed when they themselves were experiencing homelessness. A handful of volunteers also pitch in.
On a typical day, Jordan’s team gives away about 600 meals, and they pass out warm clothes and groceries to those who need them. But in recent days, the number of people coming for food has risen substantially.
A typical menu at the Health Hot Free Meals restaurant includes baked chicken, pot roast, potato salad, fresh veggies, beans and rice. Twice a week, Jordan cooks barbecue ribs. For dessert, Jordan makes peach cobbler and banana pudding.
The restaurant also provides food for residents at a nearby senior center, Jordan said. Many older folks struggle to get groceries since there are few local, safe and accessible markets.
“I prepared 40 meals for the people there, but it still wasn’t enough,” he said. “So I made it my business today to make sure they had enough food after I fed the homeless people this morning.”
The Healthy Hot Free Meals restaurant is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily at 4100 W. Madison St.
The Healthy Free Hot Meals restaurant aims to raise $100,000 to pay for rent, utilities, wages and food supplies to keep feeding West Side residents. You can donate online.
Jordan is also seeking volunteers and donations of food and groceries. You can reach him for more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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