The New Normal

The New Normal series chronicles Cook County's pantries as they face near-record levels of demand during difficult times.

St. James Mobile Pantry translates to food

StJames_newnormal.jpgLike all food pantries, St. James’ greatest need is food. But unlike other pantries, St. James also needs volunteers who can translate Chinese. St. James, 2907 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, serves Chinatown, which is a large portion of the pantry's service area, zip codes 60616 and 60605. “Many of our clients don’t speak English,” says Alex Schafer, volunteer director for St. James Catholic Church. “That's an extra challenge for us.” | Read more

Evanston pantry delivers joy amid winter's grip

New Normal | Hillside Free Methodist ChurchOn this frigid January day the bright sun is a broken promise of warmth. The Hillside Food Pantry volunteers have an hour or so to set up the sign-in station, fill bags with groceries and arrange cars in the parking lot to form a drive-through area for patrons to pick up their food. A ministry of Hillside Free Methodist Church, 2727 Crawford Ave., Evanston, the pantry proper is in the church's garage at the far end of the church parking lot. The pantry has just expanded the tiny garage, in which every movement had been a close encounter between volunteers. | Read more

Pantry extends holiday warmth to people in need

The New Normal series visits St. AilbeIt's not that people are more hungry at the holidays. It's just more painful for them to watch their families do without at this festive time of the year. It is, as Charles Dickens wrote, the season when want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices. For most of the year, between 200 and 250 people a week receive food each Friday morning at the food pantry operated by the Men's Ministry at St. Ailbe Church. | Read more

Pantry prides itself on responding to “phenomenal need”

The New Normal at St. ColumbanusNobody enters this food pantry without a smile. That’s Marguarete Hughes Smith’s doing. The five-year volunteer greets patrons as they enter with a broad smile and a cheery, “Hello honey. How you doing? Hope we didn’t make you wait too long.” The pantry opens at 10 a.m., but, “Rain, cold or sleet, people get here and in line at 6,” says Father Matthew Eyerman, pastor of St. Columbanus Church. “Having to get in line at 6 a.m. for food, now that’s a bad day. So, we try to get them through as fast as possible. You have to respect people, respect their time.” | Read more

Volunteers' pride shines at Northwest Side pantry

The New Normal: St. Cyprian Food PantrySt. Cyprian's Food Pantry, 6535 W. Irving Park Rd., was founded in 1983. The Rev. Jo Carole Bundy, director, has been with the food pantry since 1997. "It started as an arm of the Episcopal Church," she says. But the pantry now is an ecumenical effort, housed in the United in Faith Church Ministry Center with donations from Catholic and Lutheran churches, as well as schools and community organizations. "We're blessed with a core of support." | Read more

Crestwood pantry is an oasis for those in need

The New Normal: Operation BlessingOn days like today when there is enough produce and bread, the staff and volunteers at Operation Blessing tell patrons to take as much as they need. And when produce and bread is scarce, Operation Blessing gives what it has. Operation Blessing of Southwest Chicagoland, 4330 Midlothian Turnpike in Crestwood, a member pantry of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, is housed in a squat building that once must have been a small warehouse. | Read more