Michael Airhart, founder of Taste for the Homeless, is a community leader in Chicago. His mission is to uplift the homeless by providing services for them to become contributing citizens. Airhart’s passion is to ensure the homeless receive a hot meal, personal hygiene items, and clothing. His motto is, “Who are we as human beings if we ignore the suffering of others.”
TG: What was your upbringing growing up?
MA: I grew up in Altgeld Gardens. Growing up in the projects in the early 1970s was rough for the young generation at that time. The crack epidemic affected many of my friend’s parents who were addicted to crack, including my mother. There were times growing up when I made wrong decisions. I’ve never hid the fact that I use to sell drugs and joined a gang. I wasn’t in the gang to harm people. I would make meals, provide clothes to the gang member’s families.
I was that kid that was always making up remedies for a meal. Whatever was left in the kitchen cabinet, I would create a meal. I had an older brother. He didn’t have it in him to be the big brother, so I had to step in and take responsibility for feeding my brothers. Back in the day, you could go to your neighbor and ask to borrow some food. Every day, I would knock on the neighbor’s door and borrow some food and make a meal to feed my friends. Feeding the community stayed with me because I wanted to make sure everyone had a good meal.
TG: What led you to feed the homeless?
MA: I went to the Taste of Chicago with some friends. When we got there, the Taste of Chicago was about the close. The food vendors were not giving the food away. They were throwing it in the trash.
There was a homeless man, and he didn’t have any tickets. He approached the booth where I was and seen a worker throwing food away. The homeless man said he was hungry and asked the worker for a slice of pizza. The worker told the homeless man to get away from his booth, or he was going to call the police. I was mad because the worker was throwing away the food in the homeless man’s face. I gave the worker the tickets to get the homeless man a pizza. The worker refused my tickets. I told the worker, “Your heart is not of God.” I gave the homeless man some money. He cried, hugged me, and left. That incident inspired Taste for the Homeless. It’s set up just like the Taste of Chicago. We bus in the less fortunate all over Chicago to one location, and all the food is free.
TG: When you are driving and see a homeless person, what is your first reaction?
MA: My first reaction is I have to pull over. Either we would give them some money to get something to eat or food in the truck. My wife and I can’t go past anybody knowing that they are hungry. We just can’t do it.
TG: How has this experience influenced you, and do you have time to sit back and think about the lives you have saved from hunger?
MA: I think about it all the time, and it touches my heart. I have run into a lot of people that have stood in line for a meal. They come up to me and tell me they are no longer in the streets. They tell me they have a job and show me pictures of their home. They come to find me to tell their story. I met a young man whose family was living in a car. They didn’t have anything. We had our first Taste for the Homeless in Dolton, IL. His family came and got everything they needed to get back on their feet. The young man finished high school, college and has a job. He sent my wife and me an email thanking us. The young man comes and volunteers with us. Those are the stories we get from a lot of people we’ve helped.
TG: Has the pandemic made it difficult to continue your mission to feed the hungry?
MA: My wife and I continued to feed the hungry during the pandemic. We were out there every single day. We were out there when the pandemic was real bad, providing not only food but clothes.
TG: What advice would you give to others who want to give back to the community?
MA: Trust God. You don’t need a 501(c) (3) to give back to help others. We stepped out faithfully and trusted God that he would deliver everything we need to feed his people. Feeding the less fortunate, you don’t need an instruction book. If a person is hungry, feed them. It’s that simple. Make some sandwiches and give them to the homeless. There is no manual on how to volunteer your time to help others. Just do it.
TG: How important is it to have your wife working with you feeding the community?
MA: I couldn’t have done it without my wife. I know God has my back. Having my wife beside me, understanding me, knowing my ups and downs is a blessing. When you have that significant other that supports you, it’s amazing.
Pamela Airhart: We grew up in a community that was for the community. Unfortunately, we don’t have that anymore. My mom was always giving back. I learned that from her. I never wanted to see anybody go without. My husband and I are one beat, one sound.
TG: Where do you see Taste for the Homeless in the future?
MA: Taste for the Homeless is going to another level. Every day, I have a conversation with the Lord. It amazes me what he is doing with my mind. Taste for the Homeless will be the givers that the Lord wants on this Earth. The Lord said, I haven’t seen nothing yet. I told the Lord that I want it now. The Lord said one day at a time. I know there is more to come in the future. My wife and I are preparing ourselves to be ready.
To volunteer and donate to Taste for the Homeless, go to https://tasteforthehomeless.org/.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelher.
#tasteforthehomeless #MichaelAirhart #BBChicago #Tgibson #SankofatravelHer