Inspiration Kitchens: a menu of good food and better lives
// By Christian Clansky
Almost anything can change for the better when good food is involved. For Chicago residents impacted by homelessness and poverty, good food can be life-changing – especially when served with encouragement and supported through culinary training – the house specialties at Inspiration Kitchens.
The social enterprise restaurant in East Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side is among the programs and services designed by Inspiration Corporation – founded in 1989 by former Chicago police officer Lisa Nigro, who first distributed sandwiches and coffee to the homeless from the back of a little red wagon.
Inspiration Corporation’s mission is to improve the lives and increase the self-sufficiency of residents affected by homelessness and poverty through social services, employment training and placement, and housing, all in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
Food, as you might have guessed, is a key ingredient of their winning recipe. For day-to-day sustenance, their Uptown Café offers breakfast and dinner to anyone enrolled in their services and programming (and serves a hot cup of joe throughout the day).
And then, there’s Inspiration Kitchens, their LEED Gold-certified restaurant that is open to the public. “We offer a free 12-week service training program for Chicagoans age 18 and over who want to learn to cook professionally and get the skills and experience needed to build a career in the culinary industry,” says Amy Klein, Inspiration Corporation’s senior events and marketing manager.
“During their time with us they get experience both in the classroom and in a full kitchen. Our students learn a multitude of culinary skills, gain hands-on experience by training in our restaurant for the general public, earn necessary certifications, and receive job placement assistance.”
Amy says while their programming works mostly with residents of Chicago’s West Side and surrounding communities, they are open to all of Chicago’s communities.
“We serve as a bit of a bridge to introducing people to our programs, and helping our students get into a world that they may not have had access to previously. We see what we do as an important community building program and really strong partnerships across the Chicagoland area.”
What’s on the community dinner menu?
Want to see check out Inspiration Kitchens yourself? Sign up for the Upswell community dinner they’re hosting and you’ll enjoy scrumptiously inventive American fare, all prepared by the students in their program. You’ll also have a chance to tour the facility, learn more about the nonprofit’s work and the neighborhood, and meet members of the community who are connected to the culinary hot spot.
“We love welcoming new people into our space to learn more about our work,” Amy adds. “We also look forward to hearing about the amazing work happening across the country to elevate communities and provide opportunities for personal transformation.
“We hope our work will inspire people to think about ways to help under-served communities participate in different economic sectors like the culinary industry, to learn more about how social enterprise can impact communities, and perhaps even inspire new restaurants and programs in other cities!”
Upswell Community Dinners take you into Chicago’s vibrant neighborhoods to eat like a local, get a sense of what life is like in the community, and experience firsthand how bonding over food and mission might lead to new friends and innovative solutions. To sign up for this Community Dinner, just select Inspiration Kitchens when you register for Upswell.