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Hunger: Austin Community Reaches Out With Food Pantry

Rosheena Mack holds her grandmother’s hand as the two wait for their number to be called so they can pick up their free produce, meat and bread at the food pantry in the Martin St. De Porres Church in Austin.

Mack, 25, said, “My family has fallen into hard times, and we now need places like this.” The two were among 50 people who showed up on a recent Thursday to get food, which is mostly donated by a men’s club and bought from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Erice Magee, a deacon at Martin St. De Porres church for 45 years, helps oversee the church’s food kitchen.

The 12-story church building at 5114-30 W. Washington Blvd. is the tallest structure in the Austin neighborhood and a symbol of its history. The food kitchen is located between the church and rectory. The church designates two days out of the week – Wednesdays and Thursdays – to donate food to those in need in the Austin community.

“Someone could develop a hernia carrying the bags of food,” Magee said.

Magee explained that his involvement in the men’s club is how the church receives the bulk of the food that is then donated to the community. “All foods are up to date. If something is old it gets tossed out. Everything is inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture.”

He said the federal government has allocated $46 million a month to pay for food stamps, but many people don’t take advantage of the program or don’t know they are eligible.

Magee said he was aware that the Austin community was deemed as a food desert, and that’s the reason the church’s program was needed in the community. Even as 50 people show up at the church, there has never been a shortage of food, he said.

“We’ve never ran out of food gratefully, we have enough food to supply people from other communities that come to the church,” he said.

Earl Green, 37, an Englewood resident, said he travels to the church every Thursday to receive groceries. Green said he was demoted from full time to part time at his job, and he has to visit the church once every week to assure his family has enough food.

Magee said news of the church’s food kitchen is spread by word of mouth and no advertisement was needed. “When people are in need, they’ll do whatever they can to survive. That’s where we come in.”

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