Themed “Taste of Home,” Event Supports Affordable Housing, Fights Homelessness
Between two pandemic summers, Evanston's Connections for the Homeless saw need for its services rocket, to a whopping 4,000 individuals served — from June 2020 to this past June.
The 37-year-old agency founded in 1984 as Hilda's Place protected Evanston's homeless and those on verge of losing their homes in the Covid-19 crisis, through anti-eviction housing grants, and sheltering families at local hotels.
Over at Reba Place Development Corporation, strategic efforts to increase the city’s affordable housing stock were unhindered by the pandemic, as the 26-year-old nonprofit moved forward with its latest initiative, a 50-unit development in Southeast Evanston.
But like most social services dependent in part on donations, the two agencies grappled with Covid's impact on contributions.
So on Sunday, when the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club hosted its 7th Annual Taste of Evanston, themed “Taste of Home,” and benefiting these two organizations, gratitude flowed during the speeches presented, in between all the noshing, of course.
“Connection’s mission is to serve and catalyze our community to end homelessness, one person at a time. And when we say we do that with community, we mean just through partnerships like this, such a lovely event,” Connections’ Executive Director Betty Boggs said at the 3-6 p.m. affair on the lawn of the historic Charles Gates Dawes House, at 225 Greenwood Street.
“You may remember that the summer before this one, we had an enormous shelter operation where we worked in partnership with our friendly local hotels to shelter over 300 people — 70 of whom were children. We also housed out of those hotels, another 80-something households through rental assistance,” said Boggs, who has helmed Connections since 2015.
“We prevented evictions [for more than 1,500 people] by channeling over $2 million into the community to pay for back rent, utilities, security deposits and mortgages,” she added. “This is the work that we do every single day, even before the pandemic. But the pandemic has really helped shine a light on the need for our services.”
The annual fundraiser targeting Evanston’s housing insecurity challenges was supported by Evanston restaurants, breweries, and wine shops, who donated their time and ample samplings of appetizers, entrees, desserts and beverages — to the cause.
“Today, we are very pleased to bring us all together, to celebrate as community. Thanks to everyone here for using your energy and heart to advance our shared goals to address housing insecurity, and expand the availability of affordable housing,” Linda Gerber, president of the 36-year-old rotary club, told attendees on a balmy and beautiful final weekend of summer.
“A special thanks to our partners here from our local restaurants, our caterers, our bakeries, brewing companies and wine shops. Our small businesses are still in hard times, and it has taken extraordinary effort for those who made it here today to participate in the 2021 Taste of Evanston, when they themselves need support,” Gerber said, reflecting on the economic hits many small businesses have suffered in the pandemic, particularly those owned by people of color.
In Illinois, pandemic lockdowns and restrictions disproportionately impacted Black- and Latinx-owned businesses: 41 percent of Black-owned businesses closed between February and April 2021; 32 percent of Latinx-owned businesses closed; and 17 percent of white-owned businesses closed, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“To hear our small businesses give their reasons to push through and still contribute to the community touches my heart. Thank you for your commitment,” she said.
“I hope that you will all remember their businesses as Evanston recovers together,” Gerber told the crowd. “Today, we’re given the opportunity to look forward to continuing the important work of making Evanston a place to call home.”
Nimlok Chicago was a major sponsor, followed by Byline Bank, Creative Care Management, LLC, Bradley Investment Center, Westminster Place, Fields BMW, ZS, The Homestead Room, Graduate Evanston, Private Vista, LLC, Admin Creative, City Volkswagen of Evanston and Ruth D. Rosin. A host of other supporters provided funding at Gourmet, Foodie, and Contributor levels.
“It is such a joy to be here on this gorgeous day, in this gorgeous place, and to be among so many friends, after so long that we were apart, in the shadows of the home of the least famous Illinois resident who ever won the Nobel Peace Prize,” Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss quipped.
“An enormous thank you to the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary for organizing this event every year, for doing so much good in our community, and for ensuring this year’s event benefits a foundational cause — one that is absolutely at the core of what makes Evanston, Evanston,” the mayor said.
“When we think about this community, we talk about our diversity. We talk about our integration. We talk about our accessibility. We talk about our progressive values. All of that works if we are a community that’s actually affordable to the people who want to be here,” Biss continued.
“The cause of affordability is the cause of Evanston, and what we have to do proactively, deliberately, consciously, if we want to truly make Evanston live up to what we say are our values. It is the cause of our city government. It is the cause of our community. It is the cause of these organizations we are supporting today. Thank you for being a part of that cause.”
A portion of funds raised also supports ongoing philanthropic projects of the rotary club, which is part of the 116-year-old, Evanston-based Rotary International, a network of 35,000 clubs worldwide, with 1.2 million members in 220 countries.
Participating Evanston eateries included: Alcove, Awe-Sauce Hot Sauces, Coffee Lab & Roasters, Cross-Rhodes, Cupitol Coffee & Eatery, C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor, Farmhouse, Firehouse Grill, Goodstuff Eats, Hecky’s Barbecue, Hewn, Kansaku, Kerrygold, Koi, Lulu’s, Mt. Everest, NaKorn, Noir d’Ebene, Peckish Pig, Reza’s Restaurant, Shangri-La, Soul & Smoke, Taco Diablo, Yo Fresh Yogurt Café, Sketchbook Brewing Co., Temperance Beer Co., Vinic Wine Company, Valli Produce, and The Wine Goddess.
“What a wonderful, beautiful, glorious day it is today! I want to thank this entire community for coming out to the great Taste of Evanston. This is an awesome venue, awesome backdrop, and awesome community,” Reba Place Development's Executive Director Keith Banks said.
“Our goal is to help the city increase our affordable housing stock. We do it with your help. So thank you for supporting all these great businesses and restaurants that have come out. We want to support them each and every day, so that they can continue to help impact our economy.”
Reba Place, founded in 1995, develops safe, decent, and affordable housing with the goal of demonstrating how diverse racial and cultural groups can thrive together in this North Shore community. It sponsors a range of housing, from modestly priced rental units, to co-ops and condominiums.
Reba Place is currently bidding on a proposed development for Lot 1 on South Boulevard.
“We are right now collaborating with community partners. We hope that if we’re successful, or whoever is successful, that 50 more affordable housing units can be created there," Banks said.
"Lighthouse Rotary, you guys have been awesome. You helped us raise over $50,000, which is helping pay architect, consulting and development fees for that project,” he added.
“The Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, they are a beacon of light that is now helping us to raise downpayment assistance funds. So please support affordable housing. we need your support and contributions. We need your time, gifts and talents. We are an organization about renewing housing, people and community. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”