Delia's Kitchen Offers a Chance to Pay it Forward

Friday, June 28th, 2019

Veronica Ciobotaru encountered something new to her when she first opened her Oak Park restaurant—panhandlers.

As a business owner, she didn’t want to call the police, but Veronica didn’t know what to do to about all the people going table to table both inside the her restaurant and at the outside seating area, asking diners for money. She wondered why they didn’t have jobs, or somewhere to turn for help.

Her daughter, a social worker, explained about mental illness, substance abuse and trauma. “She opened my eyes that many people have lost some paart of themselves, and I wondered how I could help them find it again. I saw they needed food, plus some love and respect. Cooking is my passion and I have to have a purpose.” Everything changed at Delia's Kitchen from that point on.

She began offering either a cup of soup, or coffee and a pastry to anyone who asked. As word spread, that generosity threatened to put her out of business, so at the cash register customers were invited to pay it forward. “Suspended Coffee” tokens are purchased, given away and then exchanged for a meal. The need still out-paced tokens and staff wondered how to reach the most vulnerable and in need of help. One day, a regular customer asked about the program and Veronica explained her dilemma. That woman was Lynda Schueler, Housing Forward Executive Director, who explained that every shelter client goes through an intake process to assess their situation and link them with other services. Now, tokens are given to Housing Forward identification card holders. New faces looking for help at Delia's Kitchen are given a token and then directed to Housing Forward.

During the holidays or times of extreme weather the token bucket overflows. Year-round, customers stock up to distribute in key locations in sourrounding communities. Veronica believes the long-term solution to homelessness is fostering empathy without judgment. That attitude is offered on the menu daily at Delia's Kitchen, along with their delicious blueberry lemon rocotta pancakes at 1034 West Lake Street in Oak Park.

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