A Day In The Local Food Pantry

The Union Avenue United Methodist Church runs a food pantry every Wednesday from 10 AM to 1 PM distributing food to needy families. The food is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and several of the volunteers have prerequisite training to store & handle the food. Their service area is very small, but includes Canaryville and parts of Fuller Park.

Last Wednesday morning I went in about 9AM to help set up the pantry, but when I arrived there was over abundance of experienced volunteers so they asked me to come back later to help with clean up. When I visited the week before they told me they could use used plastic grocery bags so I brought a huge pile I was saving to recycle one day. I stayed for a while chatting up some of the other volunteers, drinking coffee and observing how things were being set up.

At 11:30 AM I returned and starting helping take empty cartons to the trash, assisting some clients carry the groceries to their car, handing out bread & salads, and vacuuming.

I learned that on average at least 75 households are helped each Wednesday. Clients are only allowed one visit per calendar month. Only a handful of are allowed in the pantry at a time to help maintain order as all items are first come first served. Some are young families and many are senior citizens including one perky woman who said “she’s still only 84!” It seems that some clients are “scouting” and will alert friends if a premium frozen meat is available.

Frozen meats, produce and bread go fast and quantities are usually limited per household, but late comers might miss out. Staples like pasta, cereals, beans and canned goods are all popular. The offerings vary and what’s here today may not be available next week or next month. This week they had items like sliced pepperoni, organic salad greens and artisan breads from a local grocery chain.

In addition to distributing food provided by the GCFD there are private donations of used clothing, shoes, toys, books, VHS videos and baby items like strollers that clients are welcome to take during their visit.

The pantry is run by a close knit group of people who rib each other constantly. Ray seems to be in charge of picking up goods from the GCFD and accepting other deliveries and appears to be the ambassador who meets and greets all the clients. He was giving a running total of families waiting outside and for about an hour it seemed to constantly be “only 7 families left” earning him much grief about his ability to count.

The other volunteers consisted of men and women of every age and ethnicity. Many of them are regulars and recognize the clients when they appear at their station. They bring coffee and pastries to share in the morning and take turns bringing in a lunch snack for afterward. They have a rapport with each other and the families they serve because they all live in the neighborhood.

According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository website they served 500,971 people at local food pantries in November 2010. As a result of the poor economy and compounded by rising fuel and heating costs, the number of people who can not afford to feed themselves has been steadily going up.

When I decided to take on this challenge of 50 for 50 I wanted to help 50 organizations once or twice at most to afford burnout, and this is one of the organizations that I’ll return to help. Later this year I will be taking training to help prepare meals for GCFD soup kitchen so I’ll let you know more about that.

Clearly, there is a huge need for food donations and volunteers. Not just here in Chicago, but all across the country. If you can help, contact your local pantry or the GCFD. Bring non-perishable food, recycle your plastic grocery bags, donate coffee and coffee filters for the volunteers. Pick up a broom, take out some trash or help someone carry their food to their car. If you have some gently used clothing or shoes, toys, baby items, books take them to your local agency or food pantry.

You can find an agency near you at Greater Chicago Food Depository website

Six down and just 44 to go.