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Casa Catalina food pantry serves as safe haven for Back of The Yards residents

Casa Catalina, a Catholic Charities food pantry, has been providing free food and service to Back of The Yards residents for 30 years.

“It’s a place for refugee, People come here and they’re gonna be treated with respect and dignity,” said Ron Wagenhofer, retired, a volunteer at Casa Catalina.

Sister Joellen Tumas is the head coordinator and in charge of overseeing volunteer activity and assisting any person who is in need of help.

Casa Catalina began serving people in the Back of The Yards in 1984. People are served based on their address and family size.  They must live within the boundary area enclosed by 35th and 51st streets and Racine and Western avenues.

On a recent Wednesday around 8:30 a.m., the truck arrived with food donated by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which provided fresh produce, deli items, canned goods, perishable items and frozen meat.

“We have a truck that comes in with food — anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 pounds,” Wagenhofer said.

Casa Catalina on average serves 300 to 350 families every week with an average of five people per household.

“My main goal is to get the truck unloaded and help sort all of the items by category. Then I provide the other volunteers with canned goods so they can start preparing the bags. We end up making  roughly about 312 bags a week,” said Ernesto Rosas, a volunteer.

In the afternoon, after a prepared lunch, the volunteers begin to prepare the cold bags, which contain meat, produce, dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables.  These cold bags are handed out as well along with the grocery bags prepared in the morning.

“My job focuses on the intake side, writing up forms,” said Sister Marilyn Medinger, from the congregation of Notre Dame. “People come in with a card that they are registered with. We take that information, then we give them another card with a number, which tells the people in the back how many are in a family. Then the food is given out.”

located at 4537 S. Ashland Ave. This pantry has been serving Back of The Yards residents since 1984.
located at 4537 S. Ashland Ave. This pantry has been serving Back of The Yards residents since 1984.

Besides distributing free donated food on Wednesday afternoons, Casa Catalina provides aid to families. The nonprofit tries to refer unemployed residents to job possibilities. Volunteers also help people sign up for Link benefits to get food stamps.

In addition, volunteers help residents apply for citizenship and change their immigration status.

‘The other four days of the week, we provide emergency food packages, provide clothing, any baby needs and whatever other needs people need in order to live a decent life,” said Tumas.

Casa Catalina welcomes all volunteers ranging from high school students who need community service hours or people who need to serve court-mandated hours.

“My duties consist of deconstructing  boxes and loading them in the truck, packaging food in the afternoon and handing out grocery bags to the people as well,” said Salvador Rosas, a senior at King College Prep high school.

“I like to see smiles on people’s faces who come in to receive the food,” said Laura Diaz, volunteer.

Casa Catalina is located at 4537 S. Ashland Ave. The food pantry is every Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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