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Hunger Beat

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'They're like a second family'

Whether homeless, employed or retired, Derrick can count on Grant Memorial AME's soup kitchen and food pantry for a consistent source of quality food.
At 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, dozens of people gather at Grant Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood to enjoy a hot meal. Many arrive early to socialize, play piano and sing along with their fellow neighbors. Once everyone's seated, however, it becomes clear that food is the focal point.

“It’s good food,” said Derrick Lucas, enjoying a plate of roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and beans. “And they’re good people.”

In addition to hot meals, Derrick has benefited from the bags of food Grant Memorial AME, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency, distributes through its food pantry.

“There aren’t too many churches that both feed you and give you a big bag of food,” Derrick said.

Since Derrick lives on his own, these bags of food will last him roughly two weeks.

Derrick has gone to the Grant Memorial AME soup kitchen and food pantry off and on for the past 10 years. Like many of the individuals eating with him, Derrick learned about these programs through word-of-mouth.

“I found out about this place a long time ago, and that’s when I really needed it,” he said. “I was homeless, I wasn’t working … This place kept me from being hungry a lot of days.”

Even as Derrick transitioned into a job in manual labor, Grant Memorial AME remained a necessary food source.

“Manual labor – it’s hard,” he said. “Any time you can have a nutritious meal … that helps. You can’t work on an empty stomach.”

Unfortunately, pre-existing knee and back conditions took a toll on Derrick’s body despite his healthy diet, making manual labor a less feasible option. Now retired and receiving disability benefits, Derrick begins a new chapter in his life – and Grant Memorial AME, just as it has in the past 10 years, provides consistent aid amidst change.

“You can’t really go hungry around here,” Derrick said. “They’re (the volunteer staff) like a second family.”

And it’s this neighborhood feel – piano music playing in the background and the universal need for quality food bringing people together – that keeps Derrick coming back week after week, year after year.

“I come here not only because I have to – but because I want to,” he said.

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