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Inspiration Corp. plans new cafe

At a time when many agencies for the homeless are struggling, Inspiration Corporation is planning a major expansion.

The agency is on track to open a second social-enterprise restaurant and job training center in Garfield Park next year, funded by a capital drive which is nearing its goal, said Diane Pascal.

Garfield Park Cafe, at 3504-18 W. Lake, will be modeled after Cafe Too, 4715 N. Sheridan, a neighborhood restaurant which provides job training and transitional employment in food service for low-income and homeless residents.

In addition to providing nutritious, affordable family restaurant meals to the general public, the new cafe will offer “guest certificates” for free meals, distributed through local agencies, schools, and churches to supplement family budgets or to encourage participation and achievement.  The group also plans to expand into catering at the new location.

Along with Cafe Too, Inspiration Corporation runs the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown and the Living Room Cafe in Woodlawn, where low-income residents can get free meals in a restaurant-style setting as well as access to a range of supportive services.  Services run from subsidized housing to open case management to free voice mail.

This week Inspiration Corporation announced a $300 thousand challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, which will require raising an additional $500 thousand.  That would complete the organization’s $6 million capital campaign, launched in February of 2009.

While funds are going mainly to the Garfield Park Cafe – including full and clear ownership of the building that will house the restaurant, the group’s first real asset – the campaign includes a $650,000 sustainability fund to provide financial stability and reduce debt service expenses, Pascal said.

Despite the economic downturn, the group decided to focus its fundraising on the capital effort last year, she said.  She attributed the group’s success in part to the leadership and energy of its charismatic (and unpaid) founder, Lisa Nigro.  A former police officer, Nigro began offering sandwiches and coffee to Uptown’s homeless from her nephew’s red wagon 1989.  After moving to a van and then a bus, a local landlord offered here a one-dollar lease on a Wilson Avenue storefront, where Inspiration Cafe was opened.

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Category: Garfield Park, homeless, nonprofits, philanthropy

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