Serving Up Hope at Kids’ Café


Kids’ Café: A group of sixth-graders
from Seward Elementary enjoy an
after-school meal at Kids’ Café,
the Claretian meal program for
at-risk youth near Holy Cross/
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Parish on Chicago’s.
South Side.

The children of the Claretians’ Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Chicago are growing up in a rough neighborhood. It’s hard to enjoy the innocence and fun of childhood when you’re hungry.

Kids’ Café, an after school meal program at the parish, was developed by the Claretians to help free the minds and hearts of area children by filling their stomachs with nutritious food. The Café celebrated its birthday in February 2007, marking six years of feeding hungry young mouths and giving hope to neighborhood children.

Many kids in the economically depressed area come from at-risk homes, where they may not get even one, let alone three, meals in a day.

The Café is a beacon of hope to the entire community, not just the children who eat there. Yolanda Gonzalez started as the new cook in December 2006. She came to know the Claretians when she sang in the choir at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish nearly 30 years ago. Later she served as a Claretian lay volunteer for a year and a half in Guatemala. Upon returning to the United States, Yolanda held a variety of jobs, always searching for a way to integrate her love of cooking with her desire to be with people, especially children.

Working at Kids’ Café, she says, is “the icing on the cake. It’s really the culmination of what I have always wanted to do: cooking and working with children.”

The correlation between kids who are underfed and those who have behavioral problems is strong, observes Sister Angie Kolacinski, youth coordinator at Holy Cross/IHM and Director of Kids’ Café.

“Kids’ Café is a springboard to a deeper relationship with these kids,” she says. “We use it as a way to identify those kids who are in need of our help and attention.” Father Bruce Wellems, C.M.F. is pastor of Holy Cross/ IHM. On a parish youth trip to the Rocky Mountains, Father Bruce noted the difficulty kids had letting go of soda pop and chips, as their food in the mountains was dried fruits and vegetables, and water.

“The kids changed their behavior when they had full bellies and someone paying some attention to them,” Father Bruce says.

Kids’ Café serves 60-100 kids every weekday after school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The staff hopes to see the Café continue to flourish and improve by involving more neighborhood teens in volunteer work there, and instructing kids on proper nutrition.

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