ORGANIZATION | Inducted 1994

Founded in 1988, it became Chicago’s only in-home meals program for persons living with AIDS and served more than 3 million meals. It expanded throughout the city, added other nutrition programs, and cooperated with other groups targeting specific ethnic populations.

Open Hand Chicago was founded in August 1988 by a group of friends, many of them gay and lesbian AIDS caregivers, who considered what sustainable volunteer actions might be taken to ensure that people dying of AIDS could complete their lives with as much dignity and community support as possible. Ultimately, using San Francisco’s Project Open Hand as a model, they created Open Hand Chicago, which is today our city’s only in-home meals program for people living with AIDS.

Open Hand Chicago delivered its first meals, prepared in volunteers’ homes, on Christmas Eve 1988. Regular deliveries started January 2, 1989. During the organization’s first year, Open Hand’s volunteers delivered 41,476 meals. By 1993, they delivered over 175,000 meals to 945 unduplicated clients, nearly a 325% increase in just over four years. The agency projects that it will pass the 750,000th-meal mark by the end of 1994.

In spite of its rapid growth, Open Hand Chicago remains responsive and flexible to the needs and wants of its clients. Although the organization’s financial and human resources have been stretched often, Open Hand has never turned away eligible clients or maintained a waiting list. New clients, or those resuming meal delivery following an absence, may request meals by noon and still receive them the same evening at any residential address located within the Chicago city limits.

And now, in response to the changing health conditions, nutritional needs, longer lives, and ethnic diversity of its clients, Open Hand is exploring new program initiatives that are designed to create a continuum of nutritional services, complementary to the core home-delivered meals program. This service continuum will involve a range of different service options and operating sites — including grocery services, congregate meals, and nutrition education — all focused on sound nutritional practice, client education, and optimum access. The ultimate goal is to help clients function at the highest possible level for the longest possible time.

The agency has grown from its “grassroots” in the city’s North Side gay community and serves as a model citywide service agency. It has established fully-functioning staging sites on both the South and West Sides, and it has recently opened a North Side Grocery Center. Moreover, Open Hand has formed partnerships with community-based groups targeting clients of African-American, Hispanic/Latino(a), and Asian/Pacific Islander heritage. It is also building neighborhood advisory committees to assist the organization as Open Hand further diversifies both its programming and its client base.

The success of Open Hand offers a shining tribute to the creativity, tenacity, compassion, and common sense of Chicago’s gay and lesbian community.