With the state of our economy at this time it probably should not be surprising that food pantries are doing a land office business. However, when I heard about and later explored the Hillside Food Pantry, I was very surprised, amazed, really.
I was invited to explore the food pantry in action on one of its regular distribution days and to return the next day when a ribbon cutting ceremony took place, opening an extension to the ongoing operation. Visit here , watch the video and I promise you will be moved and inspired. And additionally, the story of the newest phase of the pantry is shared at: 5-9-13 2nd Addition Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.
Faith and Mike Albano started picking up food from a donor store in Barrington for a refugee family from Myanmar in the fall of 2007. They received so much food from the donor store that they identified other needy families and began distributing food out of their spare refrigerator. In late 2008, early 2009 Hillside Church adopted the ministry as a community outreach ministry of the church and Maiya Lueptow was appointed it's director. The Pantry was launched out of the church's renovated 2-car garage in May, 2009. By the end of 2009 we were serving an average of 783 families a month. Over the next year our monthly average exploded to 1760. For the past two years we have been serving about 2,000 families a month. During the most recent ribbon cutting that dedicated the second expansion, Maiya Lueptow stated that, “There are 807,690 food insecure people in Cook County” (according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository's web-site). From a start of zero four years ago, Hillside Food Pantry served 6,928 people during the month of April, 2013.
Patrons come from the surrounding area of the church at 2727 Crawford in Northwest Evanston (Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, Chicago). They come from the ranks of the chronically poor, the working poor, and those who are finding themselves in need for the first time. There is no income or residency limitation. Anyone is welcome. Patrons are allowed to come once a week.
On my visit I observed families who registered waiting for their turns to receive their food. Families register stating their special needs that might include foods that are sugar free, gluten free, vegetarian and so on.
Top Box Foods is a non-profit organization founded by Chris Kennedy in May, 2012 with a mission to provide healthy food at low-cost to people living in "food deserts," areas where it is difficult to find affordable, fresh food. Top Box partners with host sites, such as churches and community centers, where volunteers provide information about and take orders for the boxes of prepared meals, frozen foods and fresh fruits and vegetables Top Box sells at 50% or less of retail prices. Orders are then delivered once a month to host-sites. Hillside Food Pantry is one of Top Box Foods' host-sites.
Signs around the building say, “It’s more than just food”. While Hillside Food Pantry doesn't offer classes on nutrition or food preparation, resource information is provided about free services offered by municipalities and community organizations and they also host other individuals and organizations that provide free services to our patrons on Pantry days. For example, the Greater Chicago Food Depository sends someone to us every other month to provide assistance to patrons in applying for SNAP benefits (food stamps); we have a volunteer nurse who does free monthly blood pressure checks; and in July we will have a nutritionist from the Greater Chicago Food Depository coming to give a free cooking demonstration to encourage healthy eating.
Patrons and volunteers say:
“The service is a cut above most places. It is a first class pantry which is done with dignity.”
"Greeting my Brothers and Sister in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I thank God for the pantry and the people minister to us by serving us. The pantry has blessed my family and I so much. The food that is given is most of the time better then what at this time I can afford. Also the food is what people eat. Some pantrys give food you can’t even make a meal out of. Your pantry blesses us with food for dinner and lunch for school. Most of the items are healthy and all natural. I enjoy the fresh fruits, potatoes and meats...God Bless!" (a note written by a patron)
"You have an efficient process. We appreciate the variety."
(from a volunteer) "We hear a lot of 'God bless yous' and 'thank you's and how much they appreciate what we give. We also hear a lot of how much better our food is than most other places. Very rarely do we hear grumbling."
"I appreciate the food pantry because I was without full-time work, undergoing physical restraints, helping a friend and relative out of my own pocket and just trying to make ends meet. I divorced and supported a family without adequate child support and tried to makes ends meetlike any American parent. I do appreciate the help of this pantry where people are kind and honorable helping others in need. Thank you."
"I started volunteering just over a month ago now, and I am amazed at the loving effort of the other volunteers and the desire to make this an outstanding ministry for those who need our pantry. The amount of fresh bakery and produce as well quality meats continues to come in weekly—food that would normally go to waste is now feeding people who need a chance. I am honored to work."
About 90 volunteers a month are needed to operate the Pantry, but there have been hundreds of volunteers throughout the four years we've been in operation. The Pantry enjoys extensive community support. The pantry has been pleasantly surprised by the people and groups that have heard about the Pantry and lent their support by volunteering, making in-kind and food donations, and offering financial support. It is amazing how the efforts of one couple grew into a church ministry and has been embraced by the community. New volunteers are always welcomed, food donations can always be used and financial support gratefully accepted. The website includes information on the non-perishable food that is needed, and prospective volunteers can contact Susan Gottlieb, Volunteer Coordinator, at [email protected] or by phone at 847/251-6717. Groups who would like to have Maiya Lueptow come speak or help coordinate their event to support the Pantry can contact her at [email protected] or call 224/628-5182.
My walking partner and I often talk about the impact an individual or individuals can make. Hillside Food Pantry is an impressive example of what two dedicated individuals created.
Photos: B. Keer