On a busy afternoon in Ann Marie Frank’s kitchen, Loving Lunches is in action.
It’s an all-hands-on-deck operation.
Every Sunday, Frank, along with family members and volunteers, packs up lunches for homeless individuals. She came up with the idea after the pandemic forced some food pantries to close their doors and her sister was looking for people to donate food.
“I didn’t think about it very much, just that I wanted to help in some way,” Frank said. “We just hit our 15,000th lunch last Sunday. I am just amazed because I posted it on Facebook and got the entire Des Plaines community involved.”
“I wanted to help and had a job and was so grateful and my family and I started to put together lunches ... and it just kept growing and growing,” said Christine DePaepe, Frank’s sister. “I was really busy, and I told my sister it was getting hard to make the lunches.”
The sisters’ project, Loving Lunches, quickly expanded.
“I just kind of ran with it,” Frank said. “I was so excited when I saw how many a week we could make and the more people we had the more we could make. So, we started with about 100 to 200 a week and some weeks we had 300, depending on how many volunteers we could get.”
Frank opened her home to anyone willing to volunteer their time or donate items like fruit, protein bars, juice boxes and sandwich meat.
“We deliver to downtown Chicago, and from there we deliver to churches. We also deliver local, we go down the Kennedy Expressway where the tent cities are and drop off lunches there,” Frank said.
The movement quickly spread to Frank’s dance studio, AMA Academy of Performing Arts.
Frank’s daughter, Kendall Frank, says Loving Lunches has given her mother a new purpose after she had to shut down the studio to in-person classes and go virtual.
“I know it really meant a lot to her, as our business was in an unknown territory, to have something solid that we could feel that we were doing our part to help the community,” said Kendall Frank.
Kendall helps her mom run the dance studio where they offer a variety of classes, from jazz and tap dance to music classes. Holding back tears, Kendall says despite the financial challenges, her mother found ways to uplift her community.
“Living with my mom I get to see how hard she works. How much passion she has for the project that she’s doing, whether it’s here at AMA or Loving Lunches,” Kendall said.
For the last year, Frank and anyone willing to join the movement has made hundreds of lunches each week, with handmade cards that her youngest students create.
“You are amazing like a flower bending in the wind but not breaking,” one reads.
Frank hopes the small gesture helps brighten someone’s day.
“I gave a gentlemen a couple lunches and I just watched him, and he took out the card first, read it and put it by his heart and he was looking for me to say thanks and it was amazing,” she said.
Moving forward, Frank is working to turn Loving Lunches into a nonprofit.
“As you can see, it’s not going away, it’s here to stay,” Frank said.