One night each month, a group of kids from the Glencoe Junior High Project on Chicago’s North Shore go down to the city to serve meals to the needy. The place we work is called the Uptown Café, and our job is to be waiters: setting up tables, taking orders, serving the food, and then sitting down with our customers to share company and conversation.
Having never been a waiter before, the first time there I was kind of worried I might mix up orders or forget something, but it was really simple. There was only one main dish served, and all I had to do was to get my customer’s choice of salad dressing, soup, and beverage.
My customers were friendly and liked to talk. I served a family of three and a number of elderly people, who were eager to talk about where they grew up and the jobs they’d held. One gentleman, who came from Russia, told interesting stories about the cold war. We also discussed movies and current events.
The program is run by the Jewish United Fund and is Chicago’s first kosher anti-hunger program that provides hot meals in a restaurant-style setting. But you don’t need to be Jewish to work or eat there. The café serves people from all faiths and cultures. More than half of the people enrolled in the program have disabilities, the rest are seniors on fixed incomes and the working poor.
Café Manager Sara Shapiro says demand increases for the café’s services at the end of each month when people’s paychecks and food stamps run out. The need also increases during the winter months. The Uptown Café provides a warm place to escape from the Windy City's bitter cold blasts.
The Jewish United Fund Uptown Cafe is open three days a week for dinner and on Sundays for brunch. I volunteer with my group during the Thursday shift from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. I have a great time, and so do the other volunteers. We learn that the people who go there are no different from you and me, except for their financial situation.
PHOTO: Students from Glencoe Junior High on Chicago’s North Shore serve meals to the needy at the Uptown Café. (Photo Courtesy Uptown Cafe)