PILSEN — The Pilsen Food Pantry is raising money to find a permanent location to serve residents and expand their operation to provide mental health services in the neighborhood.
The fundraising effort will help buy the current location at 1850 S. Throop St. or find a suitable home elsewhere in the neighborhood, said Dr. Evelyn Figueroa, founder of the Pilsen Food Pantry and the Figueroa Wu Family Foundation.
The group is considering an “alternative space to accommodate current programs as well as future ones,” Figueroa said.
“We hope to purchase this facility and develop it into the community center we know that it can be,” Figueroa said. “Our current layout allows abundant community interaction but needs so much TLC.”
The GoFundMe campaign launched last week runs through the end of October. The group has raised over $20,000 so far. As part of the fundraiser, a private donor will match up to $100,000.
The pantry’s current location is owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Family physicians Figueroa and Alex Wu launched a food pantry inside the University of Illinois Pilsen Health Center in 2018, hoping to provide critical social services to address food insecurity, homelessness and poverty while serving patients.
The aim was to meet patients where they are, Figueroa said.
They relocated the pantry to the vacant Holy Trinity Church in late March 2020 as coronavirus and the related shutdown hit the city. The school closed in the early ’90s and the church was absorbed by nearby St. Procopius in 2004.
With the move, the organization was able to expand its services to help more residents. To date, Figueroa and Wu have opened a thrift shop, a medical supply closet and a pro-bono physical therapy clinic. They’ve also expanded their literacy project and added an on-site social worker to help families apply for assistance programs all under one roof.
Since opening in 2018, they have served nearly 50,000 families. Figueroa estimates they help over 1,400 a month through their services.
Figueroa said they haven’t been able to work out a long-term lease with the Archdiocese. They submitted an offer to purchase the former church in late February but are awaiting a counteroffer.
An Archdiocesan spokesperson said they had not “finalized its plans for the former Holy Trinity Croatian site.”
“Without having certainty over our long-term location, it’s made it very difficult to grow our programs,” Figueroa said.
As they continue their expansive work and partner with local nonprofits to provide additional community programs, Figueroa said their ultimate goal is to offer medical care to people experiencing homelessness.
“Our 2022 plans include expansion to mental health services as people experiencing poverty deal with significant access to care barriers,” Figueroa said.
With the fundraising campaign underway, Figueroa is grateful for the contributions and hopes they can hit the $100,000 to create a community center that continues to meet residents’ needs.
They will host several events as part of the fundraising efforts in the coming month. Any donation will help make a difference in creating a community space that is a neighborhood fixture for years to come, she said.
“We know that every dollar is doubled. Every dollar counts,” she said. “Any help [people] give will make a difference.”
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