CEDAR LAKE — What started with a pot of chili for a dozen homeless people on Lower Wacker Drive has mushroomed into an effort to feed more than 300, thanks to the generosity of a 10-year-old boy and his family.
He can relate to their plight.
Joseph Antoniazzi and his mother, Bridget Gallegos, were recently homeless themselves until a friend took them in.
Grateful for that act of kindness, Joseph believed God put it in his heart to help the homeless.
"God wants us to pay it forward," he told his mother.
So one cold Sunday in November, Joseph enlisted the help of his brother, Vincent Kampstra, and Kampstra's girlfriend, Tara Schieben. They made a pot of chili in the kitchen of their Cedar Lake home and headed to Chicago.
That simple meal became the Never Alone Movement, an effort to help the homeless and show them compassion. The family has started a Facebook page, Never Alone, about the endeavor. For more information, contact Gallegos at 708-639-8190 or Kampstra at 708-495-8932.
Kampstra, Joseph and Schieben regularly hit the road for Chicago. On a recent outing in May, they delivered more than 500 pounds of fried chicken to some 300 homeless.
"It took me 14 hours to cook that chicken," Kampstra said.
Everything they do is 100 percent donation, they said.
Kampstra said they're feeding homeless throughout Chicago, including outside Pacific Garden Mission on Canal Street. They distribute snacks and toiletries in addition to the meals.
"It's not just going out and feeding them," Gallegos said. "They know my kids now. My kids know their history and what they like. It is so amazing the love they show them."
Joseph's story has caught the attention of others. He spoke at a church in San Antonio, Texas, in March after meeting the pastor in Chicago.
"They were amazed by his story," Gallegos said.
Salvador Mendez, of Last Chance Ministries, said Pastor Jimmy Robles was in Chicago looking to donate winter jackets when he connected with Joseph, who expressed interest in visiting the Texas church.
"He was very impressed with Joseph," Mendez said.
Mendez said Last Chance Ministries began in a dirt parking lot in San Antonio 11 years ago doing what Joseph is doing now — helping people in need.
"We do a lot for the community here, and that is what Joseph is envisioning doing," Mendez said. "I really see the passion in him wanting to help people."
Gallegos said Joseph wants to meet mayors and officials from all over the country.
Joseph's vision expands beyond Chicago. He wants to help homeless in the suburbs and across the world.
"I am going to do this as long as I possibly can," he said. "I want to change everything."