Soul food: DePaul Soup Kitchen helps feed homeless courtesy of Chartwells

Chartwells, the university’s food service provider – and frequent target of student ridicule-is now an unexpected recipient of praise for doing something it has done for years: donating leftover food and raising funds to feed those in need at the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen.

Every DePaul student knows that Brownstone’s shelves are always stocked with “grab-and-go” food items like club sandwiches, Cobb salads, and fruit and yogurt parfaits. James Lee, the Director of Operations for Chartwells at DePaul, said these items are offered to students for two days and then taken off the shelf.

Where does the food go?

“We don’t want to throw [the food] away,” Lee said. Instead, the food is given to the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen.

“It’s a nice change of pace for [guests of the soup kitchen],” Joe Colgan, St. Vincent DePaul Parish Coordinator, said. Compared to the bologna sandwich, fruit, pastry and coffee that soup kitchen guests normally receive each day, Lee said that Chartwells’ donations help provide nutritious meals that guests wouldn’t otherwise receive. 

At least once a quarter, with the help of student volunteers, Chartwells serves eggs, sausage, bacon and pancakes as a hot breakfast for the soup kitchen, and foots the bill.

“[The breakfast] costs us more than we expected,” Lee said.

Lee said Chartwells manages these costs by being conscious of food waste in the kitchens and preparing only enough food that is needed per day. By reducing waste, Chartwells saves money to help cover the costs of the breakfasts.

Besides donating leftover food, Chartwells gives students the opportunity to donate leftover meal plan money at the end of the school year. According to Colgan, who temporarily oversaw the soup kitchen’s operations, it was from these donations that the soup kitchen was able to buy weekly supplies of fresh fruit for 14 weeks over the summer.

Lee said that Chartwells normally raises $8,000-$10,000 a year from student donations.

Chartwells puts a cap on donations however.

“We have to [accept donations] within reason,” Lee said. Generally, Lee said he looks at how much money all of the students have left on their meal plans and then Chartwells makes an estimate for how much they will accept in donations.

Lee explained that students who donate a large amount of money from their meal plan may underestimate how much they need, and then look to their parents to cover extra food costs. According to Lee, this is why Chartwells limits student donations to a few hundred dollars at a time.

Students also have the opportunity to make virtual donations to the soup kitchen.

Colgan said that all of these donations make up the 25 percent of the soup kitchen’s budget that comes from Chartwells.

On any given day, the soup kitchen serves 85-110 guests. Some of the regular guests give back to the kitchen and volunteer.

Tom, who has worked as a doorman for the soup kitchen for more than three years, said working with the soup kitchen is fitting with the Vincentian Mission.

“It’s not who’s volunteering, it’s fulfilling the mission,” Tom said. “It’s having a place [for those in need] to come in out of the cold.”

According to Tom, 95 percent of the guests are thankful and polite. Colgan said that most of the people using the kitchen’s services come every day, and have been coming for years.

“That’s one of the disadvantages,” Colgan said. “Kind of what we do is enabling. We don’t ask any guests to participate in programs to get off the street.”

According to Colgan, some of the guests are employed and come for food at the soup kitchen and other charities to get by. Colgan said the number of guests each day is directly proportional to welfare checks.

“At the end of the month when people run out of money [on welfare], the numbers [at the soup kitchen] increase,” Colgan said.

Colgan and Lee attribute the soup kitchen’s success to thorough communication, thanks in part to their new student staff member, Stefano Redaelli.

The Office of Missions and Values awarded a fullride scholarship to Redaelli to run the soup kitchen. A native Italian,

Redaelli earned a degree in political science and then a master’s degree in Italian education in Italy and came to DePaul to study bilingual and bicultural education. According to Redaelli, he hopes to stay with DePaul and the soup kitchen as long as he can. Redaelli oversees all the volunteers at the soup kitchen.

“We have a very solid volunteer crew network,” Redaelli said. “[The position] doesn’t take that much.”

On any given morning at the soup kitchen, four to six students and community volunteers scurry behind the counter, organizing food trays, preparing plates and serving guests coffee.

“We don’t just want to be a service,” Redaelli said. “We want volunteers to get engaged with [the guests]. [The guests] can give us a lot. As they realize you care about them, they open themselves up and show you a new perspective. It keeps you grounded.”

Lee, Colgan, and Redaelli’s efforts have allowed Chartwells to integrate itself into the DePaul mission, and they hope that the relationship between their organizations and the student body will grow.

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