Hilton gives homeless a good meal


Downtown hotel delivers a night of fine dining to homeless families at Dayspring Center

The room is dark, candles flickering atop elegantly dressed tables. One by one, couples and families walk hesitantly into the room, taking their seats, then waiting in awkward silence for someone to tell them their next move.

This is not how dinner at Dayspring Center normally plays out. It’s typically a more relaxed affair, with food donated by community groups and prepared by Dayspring chef Roscoe Chambliss.

On this night, Chambliss ceded control of his kitchen to Jeff Sweet, general manager of Hilton Indianapolis Downtown, and his staff, who volunteered to prepare and serve an upscale meal to the residents of Dayspring, a shelter for homeless families on the Near Northside.

Sweet is no stranger to the kitchen. He worked as an executive chef for more than two decades, so putting on his chef’s hat again to serve a fine meal to Dayspring residents was a treat on Halloween eve, he said.

Friday evening, he was busy in the center’s tiny kitchen, while about eight Hilton employees assisted. On the menu: free-range chicken with wild mushroom sauce, baby back ribs, green beans almondine, roasted fingerling potatoes, Caesar salad and cheesecake.

Shaneka Watkins’ daughter Zaimaya couldn’t wait to dig in to the salad that was waiting for her at a table for four. “It’s wonderful,” she said between bites.

Watkins, her husband, Edwin Palacios, and two children were looking forward to a good meal. But at first, all they could do was admire the beautiful table, dressed in autumn colors of brown and gold.

The family, originally from New York, has been in Indiana for nearly two years but lost the lease on their apartment and contacted Dayspring for help. They moved in about three weeks ago and are hoping to be settled into their own place within the next week or so.

Dayspring, 1537 N. Central Ave., offers housing for an average of 45 to 60 days to homeless families. It can accommodate up to 14 families at a time, which doesn’t begin to meet the need, said Cheryl Herzog, development coordinator. She estimates the center has to turn away 200 to 300 families every month.

Other agencies and nonprofits do their part, including Holy Family Shelter, Family Promise, Salvation Army and Wheeler Mission, but all have limits.— financial and otherwise —  to what they can do.

“People don’t realize how serious family homelessness is in our city,” Herzog said. “Half of the homeless population is families with kids. But you don’t see that. When was the last time you saw a homeless family on the street? They’re moving from place to place, they’re living out of a car, they’re staying in a nightly motel. By the time they come to us, they’ve been homeless for almost a year.”

Friday’s dinner wasn’t about addressing any of these long-term needs. It was simply a chance to enjoy a good meal served with style and a side of grace.

Moms, dads and school-aged kids were invited to the dinner, while younger children were cared for by staff upstairs.

“When they’re here, they’re coming out of stressful situations, and it takes a long time for them to get comfortable. This gives them a chance to relax and not think about their circumstances,” Herzog said.

Danisha Manning, whose two young children had their own dinner upstairs, couldn’t believe the plate that was placed before her, piled high with ribs, chicken and potatoes. “I don’t want to touch it it’s so nice,” she said.

Cheri Jingles agreed. “The presentation is delicious, and I can’t wait. I really do appreciate this,” she said. “We need to sit down and feel at ease.”

Jingles, who cleans at the Indiana Government Center, was dining with three of her children, while husband Stacy worked the evening shift cleaning office buildings.

“I’m gonna have to take a picture so he can see what he missed.”

Jingles and her family landed at Dayspring about three weeks ago after they lost some of their private cleaning accounts and fell behind on their rent. “We lost our apartment and our car, and now we’re here, but we’ll be out soon.”

Seventy percent of the families who stay at Dayspring move out within 60 days to their own place, Herzog said, and may continue to receive support services. Others who aren’t ready for that transition can stay for up to two years at Wellspring Cottage, about a mile north.

From Herzog’s vantage point, the gap between income and cost of living is what swallows up many families in crisis, so even though parents are working, one or two missteps or a medical problem can land them at the doors of Dayspring.


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Dayspring Center Wins in Super Service Challenge 2013!

Last year’s Super Service Challenge driven by the Companies with a Mission (CWAM) was taken nationwide! With New Orleans Saint’s Drew Brees and his foundation heading up the “call to service”, over 700 organizations were represented in 3-minute videos recapping the service projects completed this past October and November by corporate and church groups around the United States. All were hoping to win their nonprofit organization a portion of the $1 million dollar prize money. On January 9, Indianapolis teams gathered at Latitude 39 to join in the simulcast with teams in New Orleans, Phoenix and New York for the award ceremony. Indiana teams took 14 of the top 29 awards! Long-time corporate partner, Willow Marketing, was recognized for their marketing services in the “30K in 30 Days” Campaign, raising $10,000 for Dayspring Center! MJ Insurance was recognized for the Autumn Festival they organized for the families at Dayspring and raised $1,000! Take a look at their winning videos at