“Bundled up in a long blue coat, brown hat and a red-and-blue mask, Irma Ruiz-Carabez greeted all of her friends standing in line to get a free Thanksgiving meal and a warm coat outside of longtime West Town nonprofit Northwestern Settlement.
In English and Spanish, Ruiz-Carabez said hello to new and familiar faces, some of whom she hasn’t seen since the start of the pandemic, which has brought her community almost to a standstill as normal life has gone online.
The mother and West Town resident was one of hundreds of Chicagoans who lined up at Northwestern Settlement on Saturday to receive a Thanksgiving meal cooked and delivered by Catering by Michaels and find community, strength and hope during the public health crisis.
‘I want to celebrate happiness,’ Ruiz-Carabez told WTTW News. ‘We are not socializing anymore — we are becoming antisocial.’
She said she was grateful for the food that will help feed her son and her sister, and is counting her blessings that she still has an office job, though her days were cut to two a week.
The meal giveaway by the nonprofit, which has offered more than 70 neighborhood programs since 1891 in an effort to end generational poverty, donated 700 boxes of food to its members and parents at neighboring Rowe Middle School, who had lined up at least an hour before the event began at noon. Parents who brought their children also received a warm coat for their little ones donated by the nonprofit’s board members.
The event replaced the organization’s annual Thanksgiving community dinner, which normally serves 400 people. This year, due to the pandemic, the group decided it wasn’t an option not to feed its families and wanted to do so with a larger impact. With each box meant to serve four people, this year’s giveaway was seven times larger than the in-person dinner.
Ron Manderschied, Northwestern Settlement president, said the goal of the event was to instill hope and bring together the neighborhood, especially as the holidays approach and more families find themselves struggling to pay bills, rent and food.
‘These are horrible consequences for everyone,’ Manderschied said. ‘COVID creates this gloomy cloud over everyone. This [is] that bright point.’”