Granite counter tops, a brightly painted mural and ambient music encompass 30 chairs that hold anticipating faces ready to receive their organic produce, canned goods, and even fresh flowers. It’s a scene unlikely to be found in most food pantries. However, Lakeview Pantry caters to the importance of making their clients feel “comfortable in an uncomfortable situation” as Gary Garland, the organization’s executive director, explains.
“I think we make life a lot easier and give people a lot of hope. We make it so comfortable people don’t often want to leave,” said Garland.
Every month over 2,600 people turn to Lakeview Pantry’s distribution centers, home delivery program, case management services, and/or clothing distribution. Families are allowed to come once a month and receive approximately two weeks’ worth of food, however, families are welcome to return once a week to pick up fresh bread and produce to supplement their meals. If a visitor lives outside the Lakeview boundaries, the pantry will serve them once and then refer them to a food pantry closer to their home.
Patricia Gorman, who has been going to the pantry for about 12 years, receives staple items, such as milk and bread, that she wouldn’t be able to obtain on her own.
“You name the different things that if I also had to buy that at the Jewel it would really pull under quite a bit. I probably walk out of there with at least $60 worth of food or more,” said Gorman.
The pantry, located at 3831 N. Broadway, distributes over 1 million pounds of food each year to individuals in need in the Lakeview community. Those they serve have an income of less than $600 per month. Nearly half of the pantry’s 2,600 clients are children or seniors, while 58 percent receive Socia Security, and a quarter have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Jacqueline Platania, who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, has been going to the pantry for nearly two decades. She said the pantry serves a great justice to the community.
“If we didn’t have that food pantry we’d be having a lot more homeless people on the street,” said Platania.
Working with an annual budget of just over $1 million, less than 3 percent of which is provided by the government, Lakeview Pantry counts on the Greater Chicago Food Depository to provide half the food they distribute. The rest of the pantry’s food is supplemented from local businesses, including Trader Joes, Whole Foods, 7-11 and Jewel-Osco, that provide them with food items that would otherwise have been thrown away. In addition to providing groceries, the pantry helps clients address the issues of unemployment and housing instability by instituting job search programs and counseling.
Linda O’Neill, a volunteer at Lakeview Pantry, lost her job and made a promise to herself to volunteer until she finds a new one. Describing her work at the pantry as gratifying, she said this is the place where you really find out how good you have it.
“You know you have people in here that make you mad, but for everyone that makes you mad, you have others who fall all over themselves saying thank you and I’m not all about that, but I just like to see the joy,” said O’Neill.
Originally founded in 1970, this nonprofit organization recently instituted a book club for pantry members, and also hosts librarians to help sign people up for library cards. Lakeview Pantry was one of the first pantries in the city to offer food distribution to the homeless by providing them with boxed, non-perishable items.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, pantry volunteers prepare to stock freezers with turkeys and chickens, as well as shelves with canned cranberries and boxed stuffing to make everyone’s holiday a thankful one.