A food pantry in the South Loop is God's work

A food pantry in the South Loop is God's work
Getting some produce photo/Bonnie McGrath

My South Loop friend Steve Reginald, a member of the South Loop Community Church at 14th and State, asked me to come see the food pantry he volunteers for through the church on Saturday mornings.  I visited this morning.  Quite impressive, I must say.  God's work.

The operation can always use more volunteers, as long as they are committed and will show up when they say they will (or at least call if something comes up), according to the woman who coordinates it all, Rosa Ellis--also a member of the church.

Hear that, South Loopers--and residents of other neighborhoods?  You are needed here as long as you are committed.

Steve says Rosa's organizing skills, procurement savvy and distribution abilities are up to running a major Fortune 500 company.

He's right.  When I saw how she organizes the food, the bags, the refrigerators, the freezers (including regularly checking the temperatures), the shelving, the deliveries, the distribution on Saturdays, the paperwork, the ordering, the keeping track of volunteers--who comes when--and even monitoring a bunch of modern mousetraps that she puts out around the food "just in case," I was in awe.  Nary a mouse has ever been spotted in a trap, by the way.  (Rosa says she'd freak out if there ever was one.)

There are shelves devoted to those "without a residence" filled with things that can be eaten at room temperature, with lids that pop off.  And all the shelves are arranged in the order in which their contents should be placed in the bags; the bags are upside down on a block so you just overturn them and they are ready to fill.

One little efficient touch after the other for up to 100 clients on any given Saturday.  Some food is even personally delivered to a few shut-ins.

Food is ordered from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  The pantry is a member and most of the food ordered is free.  There is everything from frozen meat to canned beans to canned fruit to boxed mac and cheese to big plastic bags full of hamburger buns.  Fresh bread is donated by Mariano's.  There is often a ton of fresh produce--delivered by the palletful by GCFD.  It's given to clients generously due to short shelf life.  And whatever isn't used by the pantry is donated to the Pacific Garden Mission, just a few blocks away.

There are even food donation boxes in places around the neighborhood--for example, at the nearby Overflow Coffee Bar--that the neighbors  can throw non-perishables into and which will make their way to the pantry.  (For some reason, we received a huge can of baby formula a few weeks ago in the mail to "try"--and I felt good dropping it in the box at Overflow).

There are a lot of donated clothing items at the pantry, too.  The clients can peruse the clothes and take what fits, while getting their food.  (They need more male clothing and shoes, by the way.)

There are a lot of South Loopers who utilize the pantry.  Folks from South Michigan Avenue, South Wabash, South Indiana and South Park Terrace.  But Rosa says that people come from the far south side, too.  "Anyone in Cook County is eligible to check in," she says.

But what about people who come in who may not be in need, but who just want a "great deal" on food?

"That's between them and God," says Rosa.

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