Over the past few months, Howard Natinsky and Cynthia Oldham, co-owners of Fat Cat, have raised $2,000 for Mercy Housing Lakefront!
Fat Cat, a restaurant and bar in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, raised the money by setting aside a portion of sales from a signature drink. The money will be used to support an art therapy program at Mercy Housing Lakefront’s Harold Washington community, which is located just blocks away from Fat Cat.
“We really tried to connect the drink to the cause, so that when people were buying the drink, they realized they were helping the neighborhood,” said Natinsky. “We had an old-school thermometer on the wall, where we measured our progress so people could see how the fundraiser was coming along. We raised the money twice as fast as we did last summer.”
Natinsky was referring to a fundraiser Fat Cat held the previous year, when the bar raised money to buy equipment for a sewing center for Harold Washington. “They had a dedication ceremony, and we got to hear stories of how the residents used the sewing room,” said Natinsky.
Natinsky and Oldham’s commitment to Mercy Housing Lakefront goes back to early 2016. “I wanted Fat Cat to be connected to the neighborhood” said Natinsky. “We coordinated dinners for three properties in 2016. It was for Mercy Housing Lakefront residents, but it was also for Fat Cat staff. I didn’t want the dinners to be for a special occasion, I wanted them to do them simply in order to give back to the community. It was a great experience.”
Research suggests that art therapy helps people psychologically and physically. Terri, a Mercy Housing resident who participates in art therapy, said, “It helped me vent, I was able to get a lot of things off my chest that I was holding in.” Another Mercy Housing resident, Ramone, said that art therapy provides him with “a creative outlet. I come to art therapy so I can forget about the struggles I face every day.”
Elizabeth Markman, Mercy Housing Lakefront’s art therapist, sees the positive effects of art therapy every day. “Art therapy is nourishing, and I love that no matter what the residents and I are doing, it’s creative somehow,” she said. “That’s a huge perk in my job. But providing a space where residents can feel free to express their voice in a creative way, with no restrictions or judgement, and watching them support and encourage each other in groups—that is where the real impact is made. That is when trust, independence, and community are created and fostered.”
The fundraiser comes at a time when people in Chicago increasingly struggle to make ends meet. A recent report found that people living in Illinois making minimum wage would have to work 85 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.
Natinsky hopes that other businesses in Chicago and other cities will follow suit in giving back to their communities, because, as he said, “There’s a segment of our society that has been left behind. Every person needs to step up. If we don’t support these individuals, who will?”
If you’re interested in hosting a fundraiser for Mercy Housing Lakefront, contact Beth Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to volunteer your time or efforts, contact Terrhonda Hudson at email@example.com.