For more than five decades, The Ark has been serving Chicago’s Jewish community, providing free care and support to those in need.
“The Ark is focused on taking care of the whole person – physically, spiritually, financially and addressing their mental health needs,” said Marna Goldwin, CEO of The Ark. “It’s a one-stop shop for any Jew who is in need. We know that today one in five Jewish households are struggling to make ends meet. In West Rogers Park, it’s one in three.”
To better serve clients, The Ark recently broke ground on a $20-million expansion of its West Rogers Park facility.
“Our facility is in desperate need of transformation in order to serve our clients today and to address their growing needs,” Goldwin said, adding clients’ needs grew during the pandemic and continue to grow amid rising inflation. “Unfortunately, we only see needs deepening over time.”
The expansion will increase the facility’s footprint by 60%, which will allow The Ark to serve 1,000 more people each year. Among the improvements is a fourfold increase in the size of the facility’s kosher food pantry, which serves about 4,000 people annually.
The food pantry serves as a “financial savings mechanism” that ensures people don’t need to choose between paying a utility bill or medical expense and food, according to Goldwin. “We have a commitment that no Jew should go to bed hungry.”
The newly designed food pantry will provide clients more autonomy and discretion. Currently, clients receive goods based on an order form they complete. Once complete, clients will be able to shop for items in the redesigned food pantry like they would in a grocery store.
“As we redesigned the food pantry, we designed with dignity and client choice in mind,” Goldwin said. “This pantry will have an exit, so clients can pick up food and just leave … (without) coming back into the lobby and seeing anyone they know. They have that discretion to leave directly from the pantry.”
The expansion will also double the size of the facility’s community space to accommodate more than 100 people for events, move the pharmacy to the first floor from the facility’s basement and create a dedicated area for The Ark’s Intensive Day Program that serves adults with mental health challenges.
About 170 people participate in The Ark’s Intensive Day Program, with around 50 on a daily basis, according Goldwin. “It’s designed for anyone with mental health challenges, chronic mental health conditions,” she said. “We have clients who have schizophrenia, severe anxiety, and depression. … We provide a full day of programming, and (people) often stay with us from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
The 20-year-old program has been operating out of the facility’s basement and will move on to the second floor of the facility next to a rooftop garden as part of the expansion.
“The Ark continues to evolve over the last five decades, and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to evolve again … because this is the first time the design has clients and service front of mind,” Goldwin said. “Previously, we inhabited spaces designed for other purposes. This is a strategic and intentional opportunity to create a space for the best service.”
The Ark hopes to complete its expansion and reopen in the fall of 2023, according to Goldwin, who said supporters have already contributed $18 million to the project.
“We’re grateful people stepped up early on. The Ark is powered by community because everything we do at The Ark we do because of philanthropy,” she said. “Every gift to this campaign makes a difference to the lives of hundreds in this city.”
For more information about The Ark, visit its website.