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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Movie Studio Becomes Food Pantry Warehouse Serving Families Impacted By Coronavirus

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is seeking volunteers to pack boxes of food to send to pantries.

Trucks carrying food at the CineSpace Film Studios.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Cinespace Film Studios has dedicated 20,000 square feet of studio space for storing nonperishable groceries for families struggling to put food on the table.

The facility will be used by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which is supplying partner agencies and food pantries with boxes of groceries to be distributed to families in need, including those hit hardest by the pandemic.

The extra space is critical for the Greater Chicago Food Depository because it will allow them to keep volunteers safe as they pack food boxes to meet the growing need for nutritious food across the city.

“We’ve been limited in space. We’ve had to do smaller groups of volunteers for the social distancing requirements … so we haven’t been able to bring in as many volunteers as we like,” said spokesman Greg Trotter.

Food pantries typically follow a grocery store model that allows people to choose their own foods that fit their dietary needs and lifestyles. But for the sake of safety, most pantries have shifted towards giving out prepackaged boxes of food to minimize contact. The Greater Chicago Food Depository is supplying thousands of boxes to over 700 pantries in the Chicago area — but the new model and the social distancing guidelines have left the organization tight on space for volunteers to pack the boxes.

When the nonprofit reached out to Cinespace asking to rent out some of the movie studio’s warehouse space, CEO Alex Pissios offered up a new satellite facility they had just purchased and moved into in Little Village before production froze due to the outbreak.

“You’ve got plenty of room to separate yourself and not have to be on top of everybody,” Pissios said.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository has had to limit the number of volunteers to 60 people per session because of space limitations. But thanks to the additional room, they will be able to double the number of volunteers that can safely help out. The United Center has also donated storage space for the organization to serve impacted families.

To meet the high demand for food during these tough times, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is seeking volunteers. The organization has had to narrow their volunteer pool to only people aged 18 to 60 years old to protect the health of older adults and retirees who have been major helpers in the past.

“We really need people. And we understand people are scared. … It’s a safe and empowering way for people to help their neighbors out,” Trotter said.

Volunteers must register online ahead of time at

People looking for food can locate their nearest food pantry at

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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