WICKER PARK — A StreetWise vendor who's been cooking sought-after dinners in a Wicker Park homeless shelter dining room for seven years helped the center to get a new charcoal grill, thanks to an observant reader.
Amie Hartnett, an Arlington Heights resident, was reading about Scott Elders, who cooks dinner twice each week at the Franciscan Outreach's Marquard Center dining room, and noticed in a photo that Elders was cooking donated pork spare ribs on two small charcoal grills.
Those spare ribs were devoured by over 70 people who came to the shelter's dining room later that day.
"I read the article once, then, when sharing it with someone else, noticed the picture of Scott stooped over a small-ish grill, with another to his side. I thought about how long it would take to prepare food for a large group with this setup and instantly felt, 'They need a bigger grill!' " Hartnett said in an email.
Initially, Hartnett reached out to some corporate connections for a possible donation but after a week, did not hear back. But she said she kept thinking about "the grill situation."
"I'm on a budget and time crunch, but try to do giving in the community when I can and find I'm most inspired to do so in a 'grass roots' situation. My fear was that a good grill would be out of my price range to do this on my own. I got in touch with the planned giving department at Franciscan Outreach, and they affirmed that a larger-capacity grill would be most welcome," she said.
Hartnett ordered a RiverGrille Stampede Grill from Home Depot, along with some wood chips for making smoked food. Both items arrived last Friday at the Marquard Center, 1645 W. Le Moyne St. in Wicker Park.
She said she selected the grill because of its large capacity, and that it can also be used as a smoker so it offers some food prep versatility.
"I really connected with the idea that good food is universally a true comfort and it felt great to be able to help out in a small way. I encourage everyone to find ways to be helpful in their communities, because when you do, the gift really comes back to you exponentially," Hartnett said.
Laura Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Marquard Center, said that Elders was preparing smoked sausages and corn on the new grill on Tuesday afternoon.
"He is so excited to be able to better prepare meals for Franciscan Outreach guests on the new grill. Also, Scott will be one of our featured chefs and will prepare a special dish for our Helpings of Hope event on November 10," Reilly said.
The 4th annual Helpings For Hope is scheduled for 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 10 at Salvage One, 1840 W. Hubbard St. in West Town. Elders, who plans to grill chicken, will join eight chefs from Chicago restaurants in preparing tasting portions of various foods. All profits will benefit Franciscan Outreach.
For more info or to buy tickets, visit the event's website.
While peddling StreetWise newspapers in front of Starbucks, 1588 N. Milwaukee Ave., earlier this week, Elders said that the grill gift will be used by all of the volunteers at the kitchen, which serves dinner 365 days a year and lunch on Mondays and Fridays.
Elders said that during the seven years he has cooked at the kitchen, the donated grill is his third upgrade.
"First, I started with two little grills that went on a table, then someone donated two stand up grills and now this one. I don't know who donated the grill but I want to thank them so much," Elders said.
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