JEFFERSON PARK — As a long-awaited affordable housing development nears the finish line, Friendship Community Place is organizing a pop-up pantry as a sort of housewarming for the residents.
The affordable housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway by Full Circle Communities has been under construction since January 2020 after taking more than four years to get off the ground. It has 75 affordable apartments for veterans, older people and people with disabilities.
Delays in securing construction supplies and city inspections have pushed back the building’s opening date, but residents should be able to move in this month, said Josh Wilmoth, CEO of Full Circle Communities.
To help the residents transition into their new homes, Friendship Community Place is collecting household and hygiene items for its temporary move-in pantry. The Far Northwest Side nonprofit, which houses Friendship Presbyterian Church, will lease the first-floor commercial space in the building and offer it up as a venue for meetings, workshops and training opportunities for building residents and members of the community. It plans to be open before the end of the month.
“We have been encouraging folks to remember the last time they moved and all the little things [needed] the first time you set up a home,” said Shawna Bowman, cofounder of Neighbors for Affordable Housing and the pastor at Friendship Presbyterian Church.
People can donate new or gently used household items, including paper products, cleaning and hygiene supplies, shower curtains, pots, pans, dishes, flatware and bed linens. The pantry is also accepting donations and Target gift cards for items on its wish list.
People can donate physical items 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the building. The group plans to announce future dropoff days as the building gets closer to an opening date.
Friendship Community Place isn’t taking furniture donations right away. Instead, organizers are creating a database of large household items to match donors with particular household needs from residents. If people have items they’d like to donate to the furniture database, email the church at email@example.com.
The pantry is a way for residents to learn more about the nonprofit and resources available to them, as well as to educate the broader Far Northwest Side on housing insecurity issues and ways they can support their new neighbors, Bowman said.
Blake Collins, a pastoral intern with the nonprofit who helped launch the pantry, said part of its mission is to reinforce human dignity, especially for residents who are transitioning from experiencing homelessness or have had past trauma around food and housing insecurity.
“The invitation to the new residents is to access what you need and volunteer and donate,” Collins said. “We are trying to lean into the mutual aid model and a collaborative invitation as we are sharing space.”
Friendship Community Place plans to open the pantry later this month for four to six weeks and is looking for volunteers to organize items ahead of its opening. People are also needed to work two-hour shifts once it opens to residents.
The pantry will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and 12 p.m.-2 p.m. Sundays. Volunteers can sign up here and will be asked to watch an orientation video to better assist the residents.
“Volunteering would be a wonderful way to get to know your new neighbors in the building and also begin to build relationships with other folks who do believe that supporting neighbors in this building and in this community is important to the life of our larger neighborhood,” Bowman said.
In addition to the pantry, local neighborhood groups worked together to create a welcome packet for incoming residents to get to know Jefferson Park, with local library information, park district information and where to buy food and medical resources.
Last summer, the church launched a video series called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” which addressed issues of affordable housing, homelessness, racial justice, inclusion and relationship-building with local leaders in the community — a first step in welcoming residents and moving past the development’s controversy in the neighborhood.
After years of furious and racially charged debate over the development’s opposition from some members of the community — which also included worries about density and increased traffic — people changed their perspective about the project once they learned more about it, Wilmoth previously told Block Club.
Wilmoth said some people who were initially skeptical ended up applying to be on the building’s waiting list, which received 700 applications when leasing opened last year. About 150 of them were from veterans or people who have disabilities, who got first priority.
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