In Homewood, one in four people face food insecurity, a fact that surprised Nick Koster when he first learned it.
“Even in a community like Homewood, which you would consider to be well off, you never know what people are struggling with, the private battles people are facing — whether it's food insecurity, not knowing how to buy school supplies for their kids or not knowing where to find a winter coat,” said Koster, program director of Open Access, a Homewood-based nonprofit that aims to meet the needs of the area’s underserved communities.
Open Access will serve community members with a Nov. 23 turkey giveaway. Families will be provided with a complete Thanksgiving meal, an effort driven by donations from local Homewood businesses and community sponsors. There will be 1,000 meals distributed. Some of those meals will go to families affiliated with Homewood School District 153, South Holland School District 151, Family Christian Health, local churches and Suburban Access, a sister agency.
Events like the turkey giveaway are not only an opportunity to help but to shine a light on hunger in the Homewood area, Koster added. Eugenia Cutler, executive director, stressed the importance of bringing awareness to that issue.
“We see things on television, but we really don’t realize that there’s people right in our own communities that have needs, that are hungry," Cutler said. "The biggest impact for me is sharing that information with the community and getting them excited about partnering with us.”
Koster said the reality of hunger emphasizes the importance of the work his organization does. Since 2014, it has aimed to fill gaps in resources and services for the village’s most vulnerable. For the past six years, one of those gaps has been filled by the organization’s free clothing closets, which has provided those in need with clothes, shoes and other household items at no cost.
“There’s a lot of organizations in the area doing food pantries and giving out free food, but there weren't a lot of places people could go to get free coats, toiletries, things you can’t buy with a Link card,” he said.
The organization started with one closet and expanded to five, Koster said. It has helped about 350 families each month, with about 50,000 items distributed each year. That includes those who are served by local organizations Open Access partners with.
Other programs the organization has implemented include restorative yoga for single moms, Spanish language classes and Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) training.
But all of those programs, including the clothing closet, were put on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It forced the organization to rethink how it served the community, Koster said. Despite some limitations, Open Access has continued to provide support to its partners in various ways. That includes providing emergency services to organizations like Family Christian Health and Anew as well as donating personal protective equipment to Franciscan Hospital.
“We did a lot of little things but in a pandemic, even the little things can go a long way,” he said.
Koster and his colleagues hope to reopen the clothing closets in January as part of a rollout of some of its previous programming.
Cutler said she’s not only looking forward to resuming Open Access's pre-pandemic services but also to expanding the organization's reach with its clothing closets and food distribution.
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