Written by Katherine Newman.
There are about 80,000 homeless Chicagoans, according to the Chicago Homeless Coalition, and Michael Airhart has made it his life mission to provide as many resources as he can for those individuals. Most days, Airhart can be found working in the streets and shelters across the city providing food and compassion to the less fortunate.
A few years ago, Airhart decided to take his commitment to Chicago’s homeless population to the next level and founded Taste for the Homeless, an event that brings homeless individuals from across the city to one central location where they can receive free food, clothing, haircuts, entertainment, and fellowship.
“About six or seven years ago, I was at the Taste of Chicago and I was in line getting something to eat and some homeless guys came up and they asked the guy in the booth if they could have something to eat,” said Airhart. “They turned them away and I was hurt by that. After that day, God put it on my heart and gave me a dream with the Taste for the Homeless idea.”
The most recent Taste for the Homeless event was held on Jan. 27 at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave., and Airhart was able to partner with SocialWorks, a nonprofit organization founded by Chance the Rapper, to host and organize the event.
“We made sure they got everything they needed, whether that was personal hygiene products, clothes, coats, or food. Throughout each season from winter to fall, we want to be able to provide them with the items that they need,” said Airhart. “All these companies came out and put a lot of love in their food and [the homeless attendees] said they had never experienced anything like this before.”
Airhart works with local shelters to invite individuals to the event and supplies the transportation for them to go from the shelter to the event where they are met with a nurturing and inclusive environment to socialize in and an opportunity to receive and seek their most needed survival items.
“The families that were there from the shelters and their kids were giving me hugs and thanking me. They said that they had never been to anything like this ever in their life,” said Airhart. “They were able to go shopping and get their haircut and get their nails done for free. They said it was amazing and that they have never, ever experienced anything like that. They were so grateful for everything.”
Now that the Taste for the Homeless Winter Festival has ended, Airhart is already looking forward to the Summer Festival which is scheduled to take place on June 22. He said there will be “some amazing stuff” taking place at the upcoming summer festival.
To learn more about the Taste for the Homeless visit www.socialworkschi.org.