Bridgeport’s Best Brunch

Jon Brozdowski

For the mix of friends and strangers chatting in the charming garden of the Benton House, the only concern is the lack of coffee. Set against the background of early-blooming tulips, Maureen Sullivan pokes fun at the group’s unofficial cross-town rivals, the Cubs, who were recently “beaten by the Nationals in a really joyous way.” The Bridgeport Alliance organized this potluck brunch with a small town atmosphere for the area’s community groups.

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows Bridgeport is changing. In the second half of last year, three new organizations emerged to help improve the neighborhood: the Friends of South Halsted formed to fundraise the restoration of the still-shuttered Ramova Theatre and encourage business on Halsted Street; the Bridgeport Citizens Group formed to improve the safety of the neighborhood through peaceful and non-confrontational means; and the grassroots Bridgeport Alliance also began operations.

Today, the groups that helped close the Fisk and Crawford coal plant sit at wooden tables with oatmeal, rice and beans, and scones. Kristina Tendilla, vice president of the organization, hopes this Brunch will create greater interest in the Bridgeport Alliance. Tendilla sees the coalition of smaller neighborhood organizations one day capturing, “the voice of Bridgeport, not just of the people in power, but representative.”

The diversity of the crowd matches that of the neighborhood, with youth and adults, professionals who work in policy, working class citizens, Bridgeport natives and recent transplants, Irish and African-American residents as well as Mexican and Chinese-Americans. The goal does not seem overly ambitious, especially against the tall brick walls of the familiar century-old recreation center. She continues, “We want to tap into what people want to see in their community.”

The bulletin board behind us is covered in pink note cards where attendees were urged to write their hopes for their area: “A 31st street bus,” “Organize empty lot cleanups,” “Spend money at local businesses to encourage them to stay open.” Joe Hopkins, secretary, wants to work with the Friends of Halsted Street to support  the businesses on Morgan and Halsted, which he sees as overwhelmed by bureaucratic obstacles. He points out his pastor, Tom Gaulke, who leads the initiative, and is seated a few chairs away, sipping a Styrofoam cup.

As the event winds down, some people plan to march to Grant Park for the Chicago Spring event. On this warm spring morning, optimism comes easy.