Feeding Body and Soul

A DePaul student enjoys breakfast with children from the surrounding community in 1971.

A DePaul student enjoys breakfast with children from the surrounding community in 1971.

A student-run breakfast program brought the DePaul community together

In years past, DePaul’s cafeteria food might best be described as … filling. While DePaul alumni might not cherish their own dining experiences, there is one food-related memory that may be nourishing their souls—the DePaul University Breakfast Feeding Program.

During the 1960s, the Lincoln Park neighborhood surrounding DePaul’s campus was a multiracial, economically depressed area. With gentrification on the rise, activism became an everyday occurrence in and around campus.

Among those activists were The DePaulia’s managing editor Mike Walters (LAS ’70) and columnist James Hammonds (LAS ’70, JD ’73). The two friends often kicked around various ideas for the newspaper and beyond. “At some point, we talked about this concept of the breakfast program,” says Hammonds, “and I thought that it was a great idea.”

Hammonds, a founding member of DePaul’s Black Student Union, says he and Walters based their program on the breakfast program run by the Black Panthers for children in Black communities.

“We had relations with Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party, and [Puerto Rican activists] the Young Lords were involved,” Hammonds says. “We tried to involve ourselves with everybody who lived and worked in that community.”

After getting permission from the university to start the program, Hammonds and Walters secured a space in the Academy Building (now Byrne Hall) where they could serve breakfast to the children of low-income families living in apartment buildings around DePaul. Once the word got out, other students volunteered to organize, staff , fundraise and run the program. “It was the other students at DePaul who actually did the grunt work and made it happen on a daily basis,” Hammonds recalls. They served upward of 100 children a day.

Hammonds looks back on the experience with fondness and gratitude, particularly for Rev. John R. Cortelyou, C.M. (CSH MS ’43), who was then DePaul’s president. “A lot of the projects and things that we did could not have been done if it had not been for the administration,” Hammonds says.

While the breakfast program lasted only a short time, it was part of a formative experience for Hammonds at DePaul. “All these experiences have made me who I am. Since leaving DePaul I’ve been involved in numerous projects and programs in Chicago and the Austin community where I live.”

Reflecting on the breakfast program, Hammonds says, “There are these moments when you know God is in something. Everything kind of fell into place, and people who hadn’t been doing anything together did what they needed to do to make it work.”

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