By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Eason sibilings and their soul food restaurant "Jennifer's Edibles" is woven into the fabric of their community. Their efforts to make sure no senior goes hungry right now shows why they are so beloved.
Jennifer Eason and her brother William run Jennifer's Edibles, an American soul food restaurant in Evanston, Ill., where, in normal times, Jennifer spends her days cooking jerk chicken with rice and peas, grits with cajun shrimp and oxtails with butter beans. William serves as manager.
But these aren't normal times.
The dining room, where folks usually gather to eat Jennifer's food and hold E-Town Sister Circle meetings and chat about community affairs, is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Their business has shifted to carryout and delivery only.
Last week, when state officials were starting to order mass closures and other distancing measures, an out-of-state friend called the Easons and asked them to bring some meals to his elderly mother. He was worried about her leaving her Evanston apartment, and he wasn't sure whether she had enough groceries to get by.
"We went by there, and she wasn't really in the best shape and didn't have much support," Jennifer Eason said. "We decided then to see if we could afford to feed five people a day for as long as we could."
The next day, they prepared five extra meals and brought them around to senior citizens who needed food. Word got out. People started to call and request one of Jennifer's meals for themselves or their elderly relatives, neighbors or friends.
On the second day, they prepared and delivered 18 meals. By the third day, it was up to 24. This week, they prepared and delivered 52 meals a day.
Sixteen of their friends and customers have volunteered to be drivers. Restaurant regulars and good-hearted Evanstonians are calling the restaurant with their credit card numbers handy, offering to cover a few meals. People have stopped by with checks made out to the Easons.
"Jennifer has established herself in the community as somebody that looks out for folk," William Eason said of his baby sister. "Adversity breeds leaders, and she's been a lighthouse. She's been a beacon to people. That's why this has grown exponentially."
The meals they deliver, William Eason said, are often the only food the recipients are eating all day. So the Easons make sure that one meal counts.
"Yesterday we did garlic- and rosemary-crusted pork roast with baked beans and cabbage," Jennifer Eason told me on Tuesday. "Today they got meatloaf with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Of course, all the seniors tell me they don't have any dietary restrictions. They're like, 'No, no. I don't have any restrictions.'"
"They're like, 'And I've got a note from my doctor,'" he said. (Best not to mess with Jennifer's tried-and-true recipes.)
The Easons were born and raised in Evanston. Jennifer Eason has been cooking since she was 7. Feeding their neighbors is who they are and what they do.
"And it's a pleasure to do it," Jennifer Eason said. "We are working with a couple people to try to get more of the word out. I think our capacity will be about 100 people a day, depending on the amount of donations we get. And we're going to do it as long as we can."
Each meal, they estimate, costs about $7 to shop for and prepare.
Nina Kavin runs Dear Evanston, a community group that works to connect and unify Evanston residents around issues of race and social justice and anti-violence. On Tuesday evening, she shared a post on the group's Facebook page listing local businesses and organizations providing food assistance for people affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. She mentioned Jennifer's Edibles.
"Twenty-five more people have emailed me to volunteer," Kavin told me Wednesday. "Shop, drive, donate. People are amazing. I'm hearing things like, 'I just got laid off so I've got some time on my hands.' People's generosity always amazes me, but now I'm seeing generosity and kindness almost exclusively."
The Easons, she said, are woven into the fabric of Evanston.
"Jennifer started really small and with very little and that's why, to me, this is particularly generous," Kavin said. "They're doing this incredibly good work from their hearts."
But they're not doing it alone, Jennifer Eason reminds me.
"This is a great effort by everybody," she said. "No one person can take credit for anything. All the different cooks and restaurants are sharing ideas. All the people donating and driving. It's a shared effort. I just want to tell them thank you because we couldn't do it without them."
"It's satisfying," she continued, "to know when I get calls from seniors that I can help them. Some people are almost in tears they're so grateful. I just really want to make sure that they're OK."
When this nightmare is behind us, let's remember who led us through it with grace and generosity. We are all better for their example and their work.
You can donate to Jennifer's Edibles efforts through their GoFundMe page, titled "Covid-19: Support meals for Evanston's seniors." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.