LINCOLN SQUARE — The Friendship Center food pantry is renovating its Lincoln Square home thanks to a $200,000 grant from NorthShore University Health System.
Construction began in April to add a grocery shopping area and other upgrades to the pantry, and the work should be complete by next month, Executive Director Justin Block said.
Founded in 1969, the Friendship Center is a nonprofit funded by community donations. The pantry at 2711 W. Lawrence Ave. serves residents of Albany Park, Lincoln Square, North Park, Ravenswood and West Ridge.
As with food pantries throughout the city, the number of people seeking food assistance during the pandemic “skyrocketed,” Block said.
Friendship Center served about 20,000 people in 2019, Block said. That figure nearly doubled to 40,000 people in 2020 and has continued to grow thanks to other uncertainties, like high inflation, Block said.
Based on data from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, about 66,000 people in the Friendship Center’s service area are at risk for food insecurity, Block said.
“We need to grow even more and triple our 2019 numbers in order to meet that need, and that’s the impetus for why we wanted to undergo this renovation,” Block said.
As demand increased during the pandemic, the pantry moved away from the “client choice model” it once used and instead packed boxes of food for people, which isn’t the most efficient way to address everyone’s needs, Block said.
Once complete, the grocery store area will have fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and protein products as well as shelf-stable food placed on racks to let people who drop by pick and choose what they need, he said.
The design will help people pick up their food in few minutes, increasing the volume of people who can come and receive help, Block said.
The grant funds are also being used to upgrade the pantry’s onsite storage, refinish floors, add a mural by artist Benjamn Marasco and become more flexible with mobile distributions, Block said.
NorthShore’s Swedish Hospital and the Friendship Center already partner to provide nutrition classes and COVID-19 vaccine awareness information to Friendship Center clients and supply groceries to The Cupboard, the hospital’s onsite food pantry, NorthShore President Gabrielle Cummings said.
“We all must play a greater role in environmental stewardship and the Friendship Center is on the front lines of our health sustainability efforts by supporting food insecure populations to improve overall care, quality and safety within our communities,” Cummings said.
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