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Care for Real

Care for Real (CFR), established in 1970, provides food, clothing and counseling services to Chicago’s Edgewater’s community where, of the 58,000 residents, CFR serves an average of 170 heads of households with 1.16 Million pounds of food and 290,000 articles of clothing per year. The number of individuals in-need has doubled and continues to grow since the organization moved into its current space in 2012.

In 2016, inspired by the success of nearby Lakeview Pantry (a collaboration with WKA), CFR aspired to improve the quality of service to their clients and hired WKA to provide conceptual planning and capital fundraising material. CFR explored several options including relocating to another facility, relocating a portion of services offered and renovating the existing space to facilitate growth and improved user experience. CFR chose to pursue the latter and three years of close collaboration with WKA led to a bold, yet modest plan.

CFR’s challenges were many: continued growth in service population, limited funds for non-program ventures, inefficiencies in its spatial configuration and renovation logistics (CFR had to remain open during construction.) Clients entered and exited the space through a single vestibule, barely squeezing past each other as they came and went. Down a long narrow corridor, with no visible greeter, clients were led into a windowless waiting room that was often so overcrowded people were forced to stand outside. Administrative offices located in the front bay were not suited for and private conversations or even collaborative work.

The improved design relocates all public and client spaces to the light-filled storefront, and a former private staff entry is repurposed into a threshold for everyone. Clients are greeted on entry by a volunteer, issued a number and are directed to a waiting area. An arrangement of loose chairs in the center and birch plywood benches around the perimeter increase seating capacity from 40 to 60. Additionally, clients now have the option to store shopping carts in a dedicated ‘parking area,’ and thereby open up the circulation in the waiting area.

A new receptionist desk anchors the space and welcomes visitors immediately on entry. Administrative offices are centralized, around which clients move through the existing food distribution to the north and the new clothing distribution space to the south. The enlarged clothing closet is outfitted with hanging and shelves on both sides of a center aisle, permitting efficiencies in display and retrieval of goods. This improved organization ensures clients have a positive and dignified shopping experience.

Staff workspaces are greatly improved. Two private offices, an open shared office space, and a private consultation/conference room now serve clients and staff where before these weren’t readily available.

The new Care for Real now embodies its name. Using daylight, openness, and paint – a material that cannot be value engineered out – Care for Real provides a dignified place for the business of uplifting lives, spirits.

Photography: Steve Hall / Hall + Merrick Photographers
General Contractor: Bulley & Andrews