Three of Chicago’s largest homeless shelters have banished bologna in favor of seared steak, za’atar chicken and perhaps, an extra helping of dignity.
The shelters, which traditionally serve a hot sit-down dinner and breakfast, often handed a peanut butter sandwich or other brown-bag lunch fare to visitors as they left each morning. But now, a partnership with Starbucks through Feeding America and the Greater Chicago Food Depository means that homeless Chicagoans get an upgrade to that critical daytime meal. The partnership potentially will expand to other U.S. cities as Starbucks’ lunch offerings grow.
Unsold sandwiches and salads from Starbucks’ Mercato lunch menu, currently only available in Chicago, are now directed to the three shelters nightly: Franciscan House in East Garfield Park, the shelter run by Olive Branch Mission in West Pullman and Pacific Garden Mission on the near West Side. Shelter managers say that the packaged meals, which range from a Cuban sandwich to green goddess avocado salads, have given those who stay at the shelters a much-requested break from the traditional PB&J they would leave with in the morning, reduced food waste, and freed up hours of sandwich-making traditionally handled by volunteers.
They’re also giving the temporary shelter residents something less tangible but even more important, shelter officials say.
“There’s something respectful about giving out good, quality food,” said Ed Jacob, executive director of Franciscan Outreach, which runs Franciscan House. “It’s a dignity thing. It’s not like putting bologna between two slices of bread.”
The shelters typically serve a dinner of pork chops, chicken or steak from established donation points like local restaurants or events brokered through the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Breakfast is often a hearty combination of pancakes, oatmeal, sausage and eggs, or something similar, depending on what food is delivered for that day. And then, volunteers or other full-time assistance program residents would prepare sandwiches to ease the 12-hour stretch that residents spend out of the shelters during the day.
But the sandwiches for hundreds of hungry people took hours to make, tying up volunteers, and some residents would take them and not eat them.
Olive Branch shelter manager Genice Bowles said that sandwich-prep duties that used to take three hours now take about one, and there are no longer any wasted meals.