LAKEVIEW — The Lakeview Pantry has seen a massive increase in need since the coronavirus pandemic first hit, but a flood of donations — including more than $100,000 raised on Giving Tuesday — have allowed it to meet the demand.
Kellie O’Connell, CEO of the Lakeview Pantry, said it raised enough money on Tuesday to provide 829,000 meals to those in need. That’s more than double the pantry’s initial goal of 400,000 meals.
“It’s been a hectic time, but so many folks are stepping up to help,” O’Connell said. “We were blown away by the generosity we’ve seen on Giving Tuesday and in the last few weeks.”
She said the money will immediately go toward purchasing more food for the pantry, as food donations have been down since the pandemic began — although the pantry has seen a spike in smaller, individual financial gifts from first-time donors.
“People are donating whatever is meaningful to them, and it’s heartwarming,” O’Connell said.
To keep up with the growing demand for food, the pantry hired 10 full-time temporary employees and partnered with Wrigley Field to use the Cubs’ ballpark as a makeshift packing facility.
The need for assistance at the pantry was up about 140 percent when the Wrigley Field center opened on April 16. Now demand is 600 percent greater than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, O’Connell said.
She said many of the new clients worked in hospitality, restaurants, travel, salons and gyms, but lost their jobs amid the coronavirus-related shutdowns.
“They were already living paycheck to paycheck, but now they’ve missed several paychecks and, for the first time, need to turn to us for food,” O’Connell said. “This crisis is really amplifying the inequities in our society and how fragile some of the social safety nets are.”
In addition to the Giving Tuesday campaign, the Lakeview Pantry has seen “overwhelming support” from neighbors who want to help out.
Kathleen Platt and her 6-year-old son, Lennox, started collecting donations out of their Lincoln Park home that they deliver to the pantry on a weekly basis.
“When the schools were let out, we talked to Lennox about what’s going on and how we can help in the community. He wanted to collect food, so we started in our pantry,” Platt said.
They posted a large sign calling for donations outside their home, and neighbors have dropped off supplies at Platt’s doorstep for their weekly haul to the Lakeview Pantry.
“It’s been six weeks, and every week our donation is larger than the last one,” Platt said. “There’s no greater time than right now for empathy, and Lennox is proud to give back.”
The pantry has also received food donations from the St. Ignatius College Prep baseball team, nearly $6,000 raised by the Buena Park neighbors association, 2,000 bottles of hand sanitizer from a local law firm and support from other groups across the city.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.
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