Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A holiday wish come true

Orlando Collins overcame homelessness and hunger with the help of a Greater Chicago Food Depository partner agency.

In 2013, Orlando Collins spent Christmas in a homeless shelter.

He’d lost his job at a car wash the year before and the building he was living in got foreclosed on. Soon after, he found the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph Shelter, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood.

“I thank God the shelter was there for me,” Orlando said. “It got me off the streets, stopped me from sleeping in abandoned buildings or trains.”

At the shelter, Orlando got a hot meal every day, prepared from food the shelter receives from the Food Depository.

“If it weren’t for this food, I wouldn’t have been able to stay focused. It really helped me move forward,” Orlando said.

While he was at the shelter, Orlando earned his food safety certification and started a part time job at a commercial kitchen. He had one wish.

“I really just want my own place to live,” he said in December 2013. “That’s what makes a difference. And this year, I think I can make that happen.”

And he did.

Orlando saved enough to pay rent and in July 2014 he moved out of the shelter and into a studio apartment in Wicker Park.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “I can open my own fridge; sleep in my own bed, there’s a real sense of pride to having my own place now.”

He also got a new job at a familiar place – the shelter. He’s working 35 hours per week, cooking all the dinners using food the agency receives from the Food Depository.

“I feel like I’m really giving something back,” he said. “I love cooking and seeing the smiles on the other people’s faces, but I also want to motivate the other guys. I did it. I want them to know they can succeed too.”

Orlando continues to get his life back on track and is starting to look toward the future. He hopes to open a restaurant one day. But before that, he’s looking forward to spending Christmas in his own home.

“I can’t wait to prepare a meal for my family,” he said, pausing. “It’s something I’ve been really looking forward to doing. It touches me and brings tears to my eyes. I’m proud that I’ve come this far.”

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'This helped when I was down and out'

Jamaine Washington receives food at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital food pantry.

Jamaine Washington, a United States Army veteran of the 82nd Airborne, was stationed in Egypt during his tour from 1977 – 1983. When he returned home, he was expecting to live a normal life. But 10 years ago, his life was suddenly, unexpectedly shattered.

“I had a brain aneurysm,” the 58-year-old recalls. “I was lucky I didn’t die.”

Jamaine spent a month in the hospital recovering. At first, he couldn’t walk or talk and he temporarily lost his vision. After he was released from the hospital, he underwent months of rehabilitation.

Physically, he recovered enough to become independent again. But the aneurysm had other effects. After months of physical therapy and doctor’s visits, Jamaine’s savings were depleted. Unable to work and on disability, he couldn’t keep up with his rent payments and other bills.

“I was riding the L to stay warm some nights,” he said. “I was homeless for a time.”

Jamaine regularly came to the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital for checkups, so when the Greater Chicago Food Depository teamed with the hospital to open a food pantry for veterans inside the facility in November 2014, Jamaine was relieved.

“I’ve been coming to the pantry since it opened,” he said. “It’s helped me out a lot. To be blunt, I wouldn’t have food without it.”

Through the pantry, Jamaine was connected with housing assistance and he now lives in his own apartment near the VA. While he remains on disability, Jamaine no longer struggles with hunger and homelessness. His life is turning around.

"This helped me when I was down and out," Jamaine said. "And now I'm getting back on my feet."