CHICAGO — Robert Magiet says he was driving along Humboldt Park one brisk morning when a street vendor caught his eye.
“I saw a lady standing next to her cart and she looked like she had four or five layers of clothing on,” Magiet said.
Magiet, who runs his own restaurant, TaKorea Cocina, says he pulled over, walked to the stand and without thinking, made a generous offer.
“‘Hi, my name is Robert. ‘How many tamales do you have left?”‘ he asked. “If I buy them all, will you go home for the day?”
And with that, an unplanned tamale crusade began.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, nobody was out on the streets,” Magiet said. “They weren’t selling any. They went months without revenue.”
It’s why Magiet says he got up the next morning to do it again.
“I think a lot of times we take things for granted and there’s so many people out there in need,” he said.
With each day’s bounty, Magiet says the goods were dropped off at local shelters. Reginald Hammond, Women’s Food Coordinator of Breakthrough Ministries, says he is thankful for Magiet’s generosity.
“Each day, we do about 200 meals between the men’s and women’s center, so all donations are very much appreciated,” he said.
The deed has proven to be a big hit with locals.
“They’re like any more tamales? Any more tamales? I’m like ‘no, but he’ll be back with more soon,'” Hammond said.
For Magiet, he says it’s their appreciation that keeps him going most days.
“It’s what makes me get up at 5 a.m,” he said
While one man’s tamale crusade won’t save a neighborhood, it has allowed dozens of vendors to get off the cold street so they can be home in warmth.
In the interim, Magiet remains active with a separate program called ‘West Town Feeds,’ which brings different restaurants and volunteers together to help feed hot meals to the North and Westside neighbors.
“Why not help others?” Magiet said. “We’re all neighbors. We’re all Chicagoans.”