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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

An Austin Food Pantry Is Expanding To Address Increased Need Brought On By The Pandemic

The food pantry at Circle Urban Ministries will now operate twice a week thanks to a grant from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The food pantry at Circle Urban Ministries was remodeled and expanded.
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AUSTIN — A West Side food pantry can begin serving more families in need, thanks to a grant aimed at improving food access in Black and Latino neighborhoods where food insecurity was worsened by the pandemic.

The funding from the Greater Chicago Food Depository will allow Circle Urban Ministries, 118 N Central Ave., to serve up to 50 percent more people with its food pantry. Circle Urban Ministries currently provides food to up to 500 people each month.

The grant is part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s $2.6 million investment into local food pantries. The money is meant to strengthen emergency food programs as a way to “build a more equitable and just food system that works for all,” said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO.

The equity grants supported 22 existing pantries around the city and funded the creation of four more.

The investment was much-needed in Austin, said Kim Molenda, Circle Urban Ministry’s food pantry director. With few grocery stores in the neighborhood, many residents already struggled with food insecurity. But the economic impact of the pandemic made it even harder to access food, Molenda said.

“There was already a need before the pandemic. But now that’s increased because people are struggling financially,” she said.

Credit: Provided.
Volunteers at the Circle Urban Ministries food pantry.

The Circle Urban Ministries food pantry runs 9-11 a.m Wednesdays. The added funding will allow the pantry to operate twice weekly. Organizers plan to open 1-3 p.m. Thursdays starting April 22.

Adding afternoon hours will help families who aren’t available in mornings, Molenda said.

The grant also allowed Circle Urban Ministries to renovate its food pantry facilities with improved flooring and a walk-in freezer. It was also able to knock down some of the walls to expand the space, store more food and make the pantry more welcoming and comfortable to those who may feel embarrassed about getting help, Molenda said.

“There’s kind of a stigma around the food pantry,” Molenda said. “But it’s really for anyone in the neighborhood who may be struggling at the time.”

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

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