ORGANIZATION | Inducted 1994

Founded in 1988, Open Hand Chicago was Chicago’s first 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. It 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 at the time, was 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 clients, nearly a 325% increase in just over four years. The agency projected that it would pass the 750,000th-meal mark by the end of 1994.

In spite of its rapid growth, Open Hand Chicago remained 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.

At the time of induction, in response to the changing health conditions, nutritional needs, longer lives, and ethnic diversity of its clients, Open Hand was exploring new program initiatives 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 was to help clients function at the highest possible level for the longest possible time.

The agency grew from its “grassroots” in the city’s North Side gay community to serve as a model citywide service agency. It established fully-functioning staging sites on both the South and West Sides, and opened a North Side Grocery Center. Moreover, Open Hand formed partnerships with community-based groups targeting clients of African-American, Hispanic/Latino(a), and Asian/Pacific Islander heritage. It also built neighborhood advisory committees to assist the organization as Open Hand further diversified 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. (Please note: this information has not been updated since the time of the member’s induction).