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University Of Chicago Launches Push To Help South Side Families, Businesses During COVID-19 Crisis

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The University of Chicago has launched an effort to help South Side families and businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

You won't find any students traversing the main quad, studying at the Regenstein Library, or hanging out in the Reynolds Club or Ida Noyes Hall – the university has switched to remote learning for the spring quarter due to the pandemic.

But as CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported Sunday night, campus dining halls at the U of C will soon be busy.

It is part of an effort under which the U of C pledged 225,000 meals to families who need it over the next 10 weeks. That is at least 3,000 meals a day.

Aldermen on the South Side have stressed the need to help vulnerable populations during the coronavirus crisis, which has led not only to health issues, but loss of jobs, more food insecurity, and businesses that fear going under.

The U of C said it is not only investing $1 million in food, but it will also be providing $1 million toward bridge grants to support at-risk small businesses and nonprofits.

The U of C is partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to distribute food at a handful of locations within the nine South Side community areas that the university considers its footprint – Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn. The food will be made at the on-campus dining facilities.

At least 3,000 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners will be provided seven days a week through June 12.

The university said it will distribute meals at:

• Martin Temple Community Soup Kitchen, 6930 S. Cottage Grove Ave., on Monday from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

• Operation Pull Grant Memorial, 4017 S. Drexel Blvd., on Monday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

• Kenwood UCC Soup Kitchen, 4608 S. Greenwood Ave. – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8 a.m.

• St. James Food Pantry, 2907 S. Wabash Ave., Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Folks at the St. James Food Pantry said they were almost in a bind before the university launched its program.

"This Thursday, right before I went home, I got an urgent call from one of our communities that we serve that 150 of the seniors were not going to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner anymore," director Catherine Moore told CBS 2's Mugo Odigwe. "This is the answer to the prayer … at the perfectly right time."

Hershey Stewart was among those who came out to St. James Food Pantry to pick up food Monday morning.

"I was down to my last, you know what I mean? So I heard you all on the news about the situation, I come running," he said.

Stewart said he'll now have food on the table, because of the University of Chicago's meal distribution program.

"Oh, it's a blessing, because the way things is now, it's hard out here, he said.

More information is available at

Residents of the South Side in need of food should visit for a full list of Greater Chicago Food Depository distribution locations, the university said.

Under the plan for small businesses, independently owned and operated businesses not affiliated with the university within the nine aforementioned South Side community areas area eligible to receive up to $7,500 to address immediate cash flow issues through a grant from the U of C Office of Civic Engagement.

Independent businesses that rent from U of C-owned buildings – of which there are many in Hyde Park – are eligible for rent relief and $7,500 in direct financial support depending on the number of employees.

The university's Polsky Exchange startup hub will also move small business workshops online and develop content tailored to businesses' needs during the coronavirus crisis.

For more than 150 South Side nonprofits, the university's Community Programs Accelerator has provided capacity building resources.

All this is in addition to the health care response that UChicago Medicine is also providing. On Thursday, the University of Chicago Medical Center was treating at least 50 COVID-19 patients.

And the U of C's COVID-19 community support initiative also includes a campaign to support U of C health care workers on the front lines of the crisis, and patients and families who are affected. UChicago Medicine COVID-19 Response Funds will cover costs for patient and family support hardship, technology to connect patients, hospital equipment and supplies, transportation, and other needs.

The university said it owes it to its surrounding neighborhoods to do all it can.

"The University of Chicago is part of the South Side for 140 years. We consider ourselves a key part of the South Side community," Vasquez said. "If the South Side community is not doing well, the University of Chicago can't be doing well either."

She stressed that it is a critical time to be helping neighbors.

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