Robert Magiet, owner of Ukranian Village’s Takorea Cocina, has been feeding sections of Chicago’s North and West sides since last year. In early September of 2020, his restaurant became home to Chicago’s second “Love Fridge,” a literal refrigerator full of groceries free for anyone to take, run by a local mutual aid collective.
Days after the Love Fridge was installed, Magiet greeted a mother who came into the restaurant with her young daughter. She explained that they were getting food for their neighbor, to which her daughter responded: “Mom, what neighbor? I thought the food was for us.”
After that exchange, Magiet started to keep his eye on the community Facebook pages of neighborhoods near his restaurant: Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, and Wicker Park. Whenever he spotted a post about someone who was unhoused or needed help, he reached out and offered food.
“It just turned into me providing sometimes five meals a day, sometimes 10 meals a day,” he said.
West Town Feeds
Around Thanksgiving, Magiet decided to put together a larger meal giveaway. He posted about it in Facebook groups and was quickly flooded with support; so much support that he outgrew Takorea’s space and began preparing food at Jack & Ginger’s and Cleo’s Bar and Grill. The team was able to give away about 1,300 Thanksgiving meals. In the following weeks, Magiet and Takorea Cocina continued providing daily meals to their neighbors experiencing homelessness.
In December, Magiet created a Facebook page called West Town Feeds, with aim of providing “50-100 Plus Hot Meals a Day.” On Dec. 2020, the initiative was a wild success: Magiet, in partnership with eight restaurants and vendors, gave 2,500 Christmas meals to community members.
It was like something just went off in my head. People shouldn’t be hungry. I mean this is America, there’s plenty of food to eat, it’s: “how do we get food into the right hands?”Robert Magiet
In January, West Town Feeds teamed up with the Logan Square restaurant Giant. Together, they fed hot meals to unhoused neighbors at encampments and shelters from their food truck. People ordered pancakes, eggs, sausages, and hash browns, and some shared that they hadn’t eaten a breakfast like that in years. That’s why Magiet is happy to distribute rich meals (including burritos, tacos, and pizza), despite the occasional critique that he should be distributing healthier options.
“These are the foods that people wanna eat,” he argues. “This is, you know, just regular food. People wanna eat with dignity. Let them eat what they want to eat. It’s not our choice, or it shouldn’t be our choice or decision.”
While staples like cereal, milk, eggs, and snacks for children are fast-going items at the Love Fridge, Magiet fills in the gaps with joyous foods too, like pizza. He is currently partnered with Bartoli’s to bring pizza to families who request it. The team receives lots of love in return. Magiet said he gets texts and emails from parents whose kids are overjoyed about the dish. “It’s priceless,” he says.
Gifting Food, Gifting Time
Last week, Magiet found a new way for West Town Feeds to provide. He was driving down North Avenue when he saw a tamalera standing at her cart in the cold. He pulled over. After buying out all of her remaining tamales, he distributed them to community members without housing. The next day, he did the same. And the next. And the next.
Magiet has left his house at 4:45 a.m. five days and counting in order to buy out a tamalero at the beginning of their workday.
“They’re so appreciative,” he said. “Getting there early allows them to go home instead of standing out in the cold for the next few hours.”
Tamales bought and ready to go to community members and Garfield Park’s Healthyhotfreemeals.
Robert Magiet posing with tamalero José after buying out his remaining 20 dozen tamales.
Tamales from tamalera Vera.
While Magiet’s work is remarkable, he is far from alone. He doesn’t speak much Spanish, so he enlists the help of friends to translate for him when necessary. Additionally, Chicago’s restaurant community has heavily supported Magiet’s efforts from the beginning. So far, he’s worked with Fatso’s Last Stand, One Lake Brewing, Joey G’s, Giant, Cleo’s Bar and Grill, Jack & Ginger’s, Café Milk & Honey, Bartoli’s Pizzeria and Naveen’s Cuisine.
Help coming from community members is also high. When Magiet first began scanning Facebook pages for people to feed, he asked the author of one post about an unhoused individual to let the person know he could receive free lunch or dinner at Takorea Cocina. The day he commented that was also Takorea’s busiest. Magiet has a feeling it wasn’t a coincidence, but because of the support from neighbors.
“I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of requests for volunteering. The community has really come together,” he said, noting Logan Square as an especially supportive bunch. “They’re amazing. A lot of what I’m able to do is because of the people of Logan Square.”
The Big Picture
Magiet will continue to care for people with West Town Feeds, but recognizes the limits of his work. “I’m just trying to build the relationships to a point where, you know, I’m not some kind of savior, cuz I’m not,” he said. “In a perfect world, we’d end homelessness tomorrow.”
Magiet recognizes that the need he is filling exposes issues that were present long before COVID-19’s effect.
“Most of the families or people that we’re helping with these meals are families or people that were struggling before COVID came. Right?” he said. “How are they gonna recover once we do get back to normal? Once we have COVID under control and everyone has their vaccines? Some of these families haven’t had income for a year. They are not getting support from the government. How are they gonna survive? You know, there are so many families that are one step away from being homeless.”
Magiet doesn’t have all the answers to solving these issues. “That’s above my pay rate,” he joked. However, he does know what he can do: continue feeding his neighbors. To others who have the means to give, Magiet says: “Whatever we can do, we need to do for our neighbors.”
You can support West Town Feeds via Venmo @takoreacocina or Zelle to 773-807-0057. Email Magiet at [email protected] to request a pizza or meal. You can follow Magiet’s work at West Town Feeds on Facebook.
Photos courtesy Robert Magiet