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Down a quiet side street at the western edge of Logan Square, a group of Chicago’s passionate philanthropists and dynamic nonprofit leaders gathered inside a 22,000-square-foot warehouse.

The massive space once served as Marshall Field’s regional distribution center. Today it has found a second life as The Giving Factory—a bustling, brightly-colored hub of generosity that provides 30,000 kids each year with everything they need to thrive.

The Giving Factory is the local headquarters of Cradles to Crayons, a national organization serving children living in poverty and crisis situations. When the group first expanded to Chicago, a grant from The Chicago Community Trust’s Unity Fund was instrumental in helping launch their operations.

Cradles to Crayons’ national chief operating officer Bernard Cherkasov (right) welcomed guests to the tenth anniversary celebration for Unity Fund, an anti-poverty campaign that’s awarded $14.7 million to provide stability and resiliency for Chicago residents.

 

Created in response to the Great Recession, Unity Fund has mobilized more than $14.7 million to help build resiliency for families and communities. Since 2008 this donor-led movement has supported more than 230 nonprofit organizations meeting the most essential human needs in our region.

“Over the years, our grant partners have shared with us how much the Unity Fund resources have made difference for them in ways both big and small,” said the Trust’s president and CEO Helene Gayle.

Now, for Unity’s tenth anniversary, donors gathered in celebration to reflect on their impact, and to meet and talk directly with leaders from some of these nonprofit organizations.

“Trust donors stepped up to the plate with their generosity,” Gayle said. “That same spirit of generosity lives on a decade later, and it’s the reason why all of us are standing here today.”

A group of people look around in a warehouse beneath colorful signs
A Unity Fund grant in 2017 helped Cradles to Crayons take root in Chicago. Today, from this Logan Square warehouse, they provide clothing and supplies to more than 30,000 local children each year.

 

Bernard Cherkasov, Cradles to Crayons’ national chief operating officer, welcomed guests with a story. He described the life of one of their Chicago clients, a mother fighting to make ends meet for herself and her six children. A support worker who partnered with the family reached out to Cradles to Crayons, where staff filled backpacks to create “highly customized gift packs for every kid.”

When the support worker arrived with her delivery, the children were stunned by everything inside: new shoes, clothes in all their favorite colors and toys just like the ones their friends and classmates had. While they raced in circles with excitement, their mother collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed.

Donors to the Unity Fund make joy like this possible. Rather than simply giving charity, Cherkasov explained, Cradles to Crayons gives families dignity, and gives children the opportunity to grow up feeling valued by the world.

A woman stands at a podium in front of a sign that says Cradles to Crayons
On behalf of more than 230 organizations that have received grant funding, the Trust’s president and CEO Helene Gayle thanked contributors for the impact they’ve made. “Trust donors stepped up to the plate with their generosity,” Gayle said.

 

The recession has abated, but need remains acute even today. Approximately 200,000 children in Chicago—one in every three—live in poverty. State budget cuts across the human services sector mean that on any given day, members of our community risk falling behind.

That’s why the Trust’s directors of community impact continue listening and learning from nonprofit partners on the front lines. From food pantries, to job training, to veterans’ services—they assess where risk is greatest, and deploy Unity Fund grants wherever gaps appear in the social safety net.

As the Trust defines its new strategic focus and establishes grant programs to reduce systemic inequity, Unity Fund continues to work in parallel to ensure that essential needs are met for everyone across our region.

“I’m proud to say that Unity Fund is here for the long haul,” Gayle said. “As we tackle the root causes of inequity, the Unity Fund will continue to play a vital role in making sure people’s basic needs are met, so that they can start on the pathway to greater opportunity.”

Two women smile and laugh, facing a third person whose back is to the camera
Daysi Funes (center), director of Centro Romero, joined in celebration with Kristin Carlson Vogen (right), the Trust’s senior director of philanthropic services. “We’ve able to make a difference in the lives of so many different people. We look forward to the next chapter,” Vogen said.

 

Kristin Carlson Vogen, the Trust’s senior director of philanthropic services, closed the evening with a note of appreciation for the donors at the heart of the Unity Fund movement.

“For 10 years, we’ve able to make a difference in the lives of so many different people,” Vogen said. “We look forward to the next chapter. We look to all of you who’ll be with us on that journey.”

 

Through the generosity of donors, Unity Fund addresses some of the most challenging issues facing our region—hunger, homelessness and community health—and empowers organizations that make our communities stronger. Support the Unity Fund today.