AVONDALE — Lakeview Pantry has opened a distribution center in Avondale, its fourth in the city, to keep up with overwhelming need during the coronavirus pandemic.
The distribution center at 2718 W. Roscoe St. will allow the food pantry to serve at least 1,000 more people each month. The need for food assistance is up 200 percent compared to last winter, said Chief Program Officer Jennie Hull.
“What we know for sure is Avondale is food insecure and there’s a lot of need for services like ours,” Hull said.
The Avondale distribution center replaced the pantry’s Wrigley Field distribution center.
Lakeview Pantry was for months using the historic baseball stadium to pack meals and hand them out to people in need. But once baseball season resumed, organization leaders were forced to find a new location.
At first, the Avondale location was only being used as a packing site, but organization leaders eventually converted the warehouse into a fully operational distribution center.
Pantry volunteers have used the Avondale site since Nov. 17 to receive, sort and package boxes of food and distribute them to people in need. Each 80-100-pound box contains dried goods, frozen protein, dairy products, fresh produce and holiday meat like turkey or ham, Hull said.
The boxes are for people who qualify as “food insecure” — generally a family of four that makes less than $45,000 — and can be picked up by car or by foot. People will be asked for their name, address if they have one and information about their family size.
“There’s no boundary area. You can just come,” Hull said. “Usually most of our food offerings are for about a month at a time. Then they can return the following month.”
Lakeview Pantry lists the Avondale distribution center as temporary, but Hull said their lease extends through next fall and they’d like to keep the center open long term if if works for the community.
Hull said the organization also received a city grant in October to provide mental health services in Avondale, an expansion of the work they’re doing at their location in the Lakeview/Buena Park area at 3945 N. Sheridan Road. The organization is hiring therapists and looking for more volunteers to pack and give away food.
“If we get people coming for mental health services, we’d like to give them food, too,” Hull said.
Lakeview Pantry has four locations: the one on Sheridan Road, La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park at 3533 W. North Ave., The Hub in Ravenswood at 5151 N. Ravenswood Ave. and the Avondale site.
The opening of the Avondale distribution center comes amid a record-breaking year for the organization, which also happens to be its 50th anniversary.
Since the start of the pandemic, the pantry has seen a tremendous increase in need, peaking with a 400 percent increase between March and May, organization leaders have said.
In the pantry’s three months at Wrigley Field, volunteers packed and distributed more than 74,000 boxes of two-week food supplies. More than 2,000 volunteers joined to help.
“None us knew we’d be celebrating our 50th in this way,” Hull said. “We had a lot of really fun plans, but I think there’s something really meaningful about getting even deeper into this work. We’ve done so much in a year; it’s unbelievable we were able to get all of if done.
“We’re living our mission every second of every day. The work has never felt more meaningful.”
Lakeview Pantry has grown significantly since its founding in 1970. Today, the organization serves millions of meals annually in 15 neighborhoods across Chicago with help from 30 staffers and 5,000 volunteers. In addition to handing out food, the organization has expanded to offer social services like mental health counseling, job search support and crisis intervention.
Hull said the Avondale distribution center hasn’t been crawling with people since its opening, but her team expects pickups to increase as more people in the community realize they’re there.
“Anytime you open up a new location that’s not Wrigley Field … it takes a little bit of time,” she said. “We’re seeing a steady amount of people, but it can only grow from here.”
To support Lakeview Pantry, or to find out how to get a box of food, visit the organization’s website.
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