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Hunger Beat

From homeless to feeding others

Isaac, left, and Will operate the Preston Bradley Center's lunch program in Uptown.

A warm smile, a safe haven and a hearty meal. Isaac Barentine and Will Pruit know the importance of all three - especially for someone who’s homeless.

“Having a good meal means you’ve got one less thing to worry about that day. It gives you stability and a sense of hope,” said Will.

Isaac and Will operate a lunch program six days a week at the Preston Bradley Center in the Uptown neighborhood. Every day, they’re working to feed those in need. But it wasn’t always that way. Not long ago, they were both homeless.

“I came to Chicago from Detroit after being laid off,” said Isaac. “I got into some things and made some bad decisions and was homeless for close to six years.”

But Isaac decided he wanted to change his ways and eventually got a job driving trucks. In 2002, he took over the lunch program full-time.

“There are good people here,” he said. “There are people that need just a tiny bit of sunlight in their lives for them to make something of themselves. This helps them do that.”

Will met Isaac in 2008, when Will was homeless and came to the program looking for a warm meal.

“I was raised to thank the person who made my meal,” Will said. “So one day, after I ate here, I went up to Isaac and said, ‘Thank you. Is there anything I can do to help before I leave?’ And Isaac asked if I was serious. I said yes, and he told me that they were short-staffed that day and needed help cleaning dishes in the kitchen. We’ve been working together ever since.”

Will is now the program’s volunteer coordinator, and he and Isaac have become best friends.

“He’s not just my boss, he’s my big brother. We’ve been through a lot together,” he said.

Because of Isaac and Will’s hard work, the meal program served more than 28,000 meals last year, prepared from 56,000 pounds of food from the Food Depository.

“There’s a real need for this program in this community,” Isaac said. “This might be the only meal our guests get all day. So we have to make it the best meal possible.”

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