Large metropolitan hubs like Chicago have homeless problems that border on incomprehensible; per the 2015 census, the city had over 82,000 homeless Chicagoans, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. One Mexican woman is trying to help a small-yet-significant portion of that population, one torta at a time.
54-year-old Dolores Castañeda noticed that the homeless of her neighborhood, La Villita, and its adjacent region, Pilsen, did not have places to get warm food on Wednesday and Sunday nights, so she did something about it. According to the Chicago Tribune, she spends about $40 a night to buy ingredients to make hearty Mexican-style dishes like black bean tortas, vegetable broths, and rice with chicken.
Alongside other members of her community—who also provide sandwiches to hand out—Castañeda passes the meals out every week, alongside low-level medicine like Tylenol. As most of the homeless population in her area is undocumented, she knows that they can’t just go to hospitals to get the care they need, so Castañeda also sends them to a local clinic where they are not asked for ID. “It’s funny because when I’m in the hospital everyone calls me ‘Mamá Dolores.’ They are part of my family,” said Castañeda to the Tribune.
The former psychology student is now taking public health classes at the University of Illinois, and she says she wants to help her community with what she’s learning. In the meantime, “Mamá Dolores” will keep passing out the dishes and helping the homeless of Chicago’s most-predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhoods.