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Holiday Giving Challenge: Inspiration Corporation

Inspiration Corporation is a nonprofit that helps people affected by homelessness and poverty in Chicago by improving their lives and increasing self-sufficiency through social services, employment training and placement and housing. Participants in the program work with a case manager to create a customized plan for them to achieve stable housing and employment.

[This blog was written and contributed by Evan Cauble-Johnson, Chief Development Officer at Inspiration Corporation.]

Working as a police officer on Chicago’s West Side in the ‘80s, Lisa Nigro, Inspiration Corporation’s founder, was constantly reminded of her upbringing. Her mother battled addiction, while her father was rarely around. On a near-daily basis, she saw populations struggling with homelessness, domestic violence and gun-violence.

Throughout her time as an officer, she consistently saw that the greatest kindness often came from those with the least. This was her inspiration to quit her job in 1989. She borrowed her nephew’s red wagon, filled it up with coffee and sandwiches, and walked the streets of Chicago to feed people experiencing homelessness or spending their days on the streets.

Over time, the wagon grew into a van, bus, and eventually a full-service cafe, where people struggling with poverty can sit down, order off a menu, and be treated with the same respect as paying customers. Inspiration Cafe, our diner in Uptown, serves complimentary hot and wholesome meals, operating as a full-service restaurant.

In the years that followed, Inspiration Cafe grew into Inspiration Corporation, a nonprofit that provides counseling, restaurant job training and permanent subsidized housing to several thousand people experiencing poverty and homelessness. After Inspiration Cafe, the next big step for the organization occurred in 2005, when Inspiration Kitchens was born. Through a free 12-week training program, participants have the opportunity to learn from foodservice and culinary experts to get a real shot at working at some of Chicago’s top restaurants. Inspiration Kitchens has provided training to people who are now employed at Urban Belly, Eataly, and Little Goat, to name a few.

Through involvement with the Chicago community, Inspiration Corporation continues to expand its services and touch the lives of less-fortunate people over the past two decades. This year, through a newly formed auxiliary board at Inspiration Corporation, DRW learned about our organization and invited us to participate in the Holiday Giving Challenge.

Inspiration Cafe is open 365 days each year, and it typically costs our organization $500 for each meal we provide to 40-45 people working to overcome poverty. The money raised from the Holiday Giving Challenge will go directly toward operational expenses at Inspiration Cafe, Inspiration Kitchens, and Inspiration Corporation’s Housing Services program, which works with households and landlords in Chicago to issue housing grants paid through federal and state contracts. I’m proud to share that our housing program continues to grow this year.

At a recent event, we were able to feed more than 220 individuals, including families with students in CPS in the city’s west and south sides. With a free Thanksgiving buffet prepared by some of Chicago’s highest-profile restaurants, including Monte Verde, Spiaggia, Urbanbelly, and Honey Butter Fried Chicken to name a few, we had people come in, eat, and learn more about Inspiration Corporation and how they can help.

In the spirit of the holiday season, we invite those interested to come to an orientation and learn how to get involved. Our volunteers are able to create a fully-customizable calendar based on their schedules, and can help as much or as little as their lives allow. Simply serving a meal at Inspiration Cafe is a great way to give back and open your eyes to something you may have never experienced.

If you wish to get involved in any of Inspiration Corporation’s programs, please visit their website at