The Living Room Cafe opened in 1995 to address some of the overwhelming needs of the community, offering hot, high-quality meals to food insecure individuals. Today the Cafe is a beacon in the neighborhood, providing a place for the community to gather for substance use recovery meetings, community events and to volunteer.  It is also one of the few places to go for a free, hot meal in the neighborhood, served four times per week.  We also help our participants become employed and permanently housed from this site.


Staff and volunteers in the kitchen at Community Thanksgiving 2013 at The Living Room Cafe.

Woodlawn has seen its fair share of adversity. Abandoned lots or boarded-up buildings can be found on almost every block. While 32% of the community lives in poverty, Woodlawn also has many working and middle class residents, many of whose families have lived in the community for generations. The unemployment rate is 23% (for poverty and housing statistics for all of Chicago’s neighborhoods, click here).  And yet, there’s a resiliency to those who have stayed in the neighborhood.

Longtime volunteer and Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran, whose 20th Ward office is around the corner from The Living Room Cafe, finds it a great help to have such a resource in the neighborhood.

“Having the Cafe right next door provides an immediate answer to those people who walk through our doors looking for service. Our office can send people there immediately to get help. You cannot be more efficient than that.”

The Living Room Cafe provides many vital services to the community, including case management for 86 units of permanent supportive housing on the Southside, employment preparation training and placement, a food pantry, and referrals to resources like healthcare, housing, training programs, substance abuse recovery support, counseling, and educational opportunities.

Inspiration Corporation’s Washington Park Family Housing building, home to eight families, is located just 1.2 miles from the Cafe, and residents can stop by and receive services as needed.  Participants like Steven, who recently moved into the Washington Park building, can’t imagine what life would be like without this home.

There is a long way to go in getting many residents of Woodlawn back on the road to self-sufficiency. But already this year, our participants have made great strides in our programs. In the past eight months, six guests either gained or increased income, while another five moved into stable, permanent housing. During that time we served 5,734 meals to those who need it most.

Cherice, who has volunteered at the Cafe for many years, says of her experience,

“It takes many things to come together to help someone, but small steps make a big difference.”

With the help of people like Cherice, Alderman Cochran and so many others in the community, we are committed to helping Woodlawn residents improve their lives.