By Megan Thielking
Once a week, Kasonja Holley slips off her heels, laces up a pair of white sneakers, and leaves work for her lunch break. She isn’t the one eating, though. Holley stops into the tiny Subway tucked into Marina City towers, picks up 20 six-inch cold cut combos, and heads out to feed the homeless.
When I followed Holley, 40, on her rounds earlier this month, the first man she came across was a double amputee sitting in a wheelchair on the bridge outside her office. Next to him was another man, who also needed a meal.
“Where’d y’all come from—heaven?” the second man asked as Holley handed him a sandwich, water bottle, granola bar, and a pair of gloves to keep warm.
Three years ago, Holley, a quality assurance specialist and Park Forest resident, began itching to do something more for the community. After some soul searching, she decided that feeding people was the answer. She hasn’t stopped since.
Last month, Holley was named one of Glamour‘s 50 Women of the Year. Through a foundation Holley started, Love in Motion, she’s doing what she can to fill the stomachs and meet the needs of members of the city’s homeless population.
Nearly 140,000 Chicagoans were homeless during the 2013-2014 academic year, up almost 20 percent from the year before, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Annually, one in six people in Cook County receives food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which runs a network of soup kitchens, shelters, and aid programs. Only 9 percent of their clients are homeless, though, leaving a significant gap in providing meals to those in need. That’s where smaller organizations, such as Holley’s Love in Motion, step in.
When she first started, she was buying soup from her office’s cafeteria. When the office moved, she went to Subway instead. Now, when she buys 20 sandwiches, the owner gives her 25. The money used to come out of her pocket, but most of what Holley buys these days is funded by donations.
Weather permitting, Holley hands out sandwiches every Thursday, and almost every week her coworker Darlene Green comes along. They lug three bags stuffed with supplies. While delivering meals last week, Holley craned her neck as she turned a corner onto State Street, eyeing the streets for anyone in need of a meal.
“Do you see anyone over there?” she asked, searching around the block. She didn’t want to miss someone.
Holley says the only hard part of what she does is the walking, and even that isn’t too bad: “Anyone can do it.” She has a regular route and sees many of the same people each week. One man, who she knows sits outside the 7-Eleven on Michigan Avenue, was gone during last week’s distribution, but his belongings were sitting outside. She left a sandwich and water next to his crate for when he came back.
In the summer, sandwiches fly out of Holley’s hands. It takes her much longer to distribute them in the winter because fewer people are out. Twice a month, she brings along toiletries for people, and now that it’s cold, she carries a few blankets in case anyone needs something to cover up with. There are people she pointed out while walking that she’s always certain will say no, but she makes sure to ask each week anyway.
“You never know when they might say yes,” she says.
In October, Love in Motion celebrated its three year anniversary by handing out 300 meals with the help of over 60 volunteers, decked out in T-shirts Holley made herself. Next Saturday, December 13, Holley will go out to deliver 100 meals to celebrate the holiday season.