Racquel Coral, Contributing Writer
Known as a “party with a purpose,” #Hashtaglunchbag Chicago provides an opportunity for residents in Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin, to gather at The Promontory, located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, to “Feed and Feel Love.”
On Christmas Day 2012, a group of friends in Los Angeles decided to assemble and distribute lunches to the homeless and post about it on social media. Eight years later, #Hastaglunchbag is a flourishing grassroots movement happening in cities around the country. In August of 2013, the Chicago chapter of #Hashtaglunchbag was born. Upon seeing various social media posts, #Hashtaglunchbag Chicago organizer, Ebony Jones-Washington, saw this movement as an opportunity to give back with her children, family, and friends.
“I was happy that we were able to feed 200 people the first time we tried. Even more amazing was seeing how the number of volunteers tripled by the next event. Every time we fill a room with kind-hearted people from all over Chicago, I am motivated to continue. Our volunteers feel good about impacting the community,” said Washington.
Every last Saturday of each month, volunteers of all ages show up with a donation of $10 to assist with the creation of lunches. Volunteers have the option of spending their time at one of three stations- the Inspiration Station, where volunteers write motivational love notes and decorate brown bags; the Lunch-Making Station, where volunteers assemble sandwiches; and the Filling station, where all items are placed into the decorated bags assembly-line style. One complete lunch consists of a sandwich, cookie, fruit, and inspirational love note.
Once all lunches are made, both volunteers and #Hashtaglunchbag Chicago team members travel to homeless shelters on the north, west, and south sides of Chicago to distribute lunches and cases of water. In six years, #Hashtaglunchbag Chicago has assembled and distributed more than 80k lunches and hosted over 10k volunteers. They have collaborated with organizations such as Hillshire Farm, Imperfect Produce, Chicago Pizza Party, Naked Juice, Saint Sabina, Station 23, New Trier High School, and the Girl Scouts. They have also appeared on Vh1’s “Black Ink Crew Chicago” and ABC7’s “Windy City Live.
“There are many fulfilling moments. We have hosted events at local grade schools and seen hundreds of children show up on a Saturday to help people they have never met. My favorite moments happen when someone stops to show me a handwritten note of inspiration one of our volunteers included in their lunch. They tell me how meaningful it was and how positively it impacted them”, Washington said.
#Hashtaglunchbag Chicago does not just limit their giving to lunches. Throughout the year, they hold various drives to expand their reach and meet the different needs of those who need it the most. Those drives include Blue Jeans, Socktober, Back to School, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Toy Drives. They also accept donations to help those who require immediate assistance.
When asked about what the future holds for #Hashtaglunchbag Chicago, Ebony stated, “Chicago’s homeless population continues to increase, so we need the helpful hands of willing volunteers to continue our movement. We are aware that the number of Older African Americans and LGBTQ teens are some of the fastest-growing populations in shelters. We want to focus on helping more people get back on their feet. We also want to mobilize our movement with a #Hashtaglunchbag van to help those on the streets during Chicago’s extreme weather conditions.”
#Hashtaglunchbag Chicago’s next event will be held on Saturday, March 28, from 10 am-Noon, at The Promontory. For more information, visit them at hashtaglunchbag.org or email them at Chicago@hashtaglunchbag.com.