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Hunger Beat

A new food pantry serving the far South side

Ernest Leggs is a fourth-generation resident of Chicago’s historic West Pullman neighborhood, where he works as a carpenter and raises three teenagers as a single father. At times, it’s a challenge to provide enough food for his family.

“Those are growing kids,” he said. “They eat so much; they eat more than I do.”

Leggs, 54, has a new source for help with feeding his family: the Seeds Center of Maple Park’s new food pantry.

Ernest Leggs sits the Park Cafe after finishing his meal.

Ernest Leggs is grateful for the food he's received from the new pantry (Photos by Jim Vondruska for the Food Depository).

Five years ago, Leggs visited the Seeds Center for the first time, having heard about it through a neighbor. At the time, he went to get a meal from the Park Café, their soup kitchen and main source of service to the community for the past ten years. Leggs now visits the café regularly.

“You come here not only to get a meal, but to talk with people and engage in community. That really means the world to a lot of people, including myself,” said Leggs.

After providing hot meals for their community for 10 years, the Seeds Center saw the need to do more to help their neighbors access nutritious food. In November of 2023, the Seeds Center celebrated the grand opening of their food pantry.

Seeds Center food pantry

The Seeds Center food pantry aims to provide healthy food options to their community.

In their first week, they served 50 households. As the word gets out, the pantry continues to expand their reach every week.

Now, community members can get a hot meal at the Park Café, spend some time socializing, and bring home shelf-stable goods and fresh produce from the food pantry, all in one trip. “The pantry has been very helpful so far,” said Leggs.

“Last month was my birthday, and I wanted to have some family over to celebrate but I didn’t think I could afford to buy enough food for everyone. I came to the pantry, and I was able to get enough food to cook for my family on my birthday. That was really great.”

Pantry-goer Gwendolyn Traylor, 87, has been visiting the Park Café for two years. When she heard that the Seeds Center was opening a pantry, Traylor got excited for the additional impact on the community.

“I’m a senior and I’ve been retired for 25 years,” she said. “Any bit of help makes my life easier.”

A volunteer helps Gwendolyn Traylor picks out food from the pantry.

A volunteer helps Gwendolyn Traylor pick out foods to take home from the pantry.

Her favorite thing about going to the Seeds Center is that for her, it’s an outing. She enjoys conversing with her friends when she’s there, and she has even met new friends.

“The beautiful thing about the Seeds Center is that anyone can come here,” she said. “There’s so much love.”

Pantry and soup kitchen coordinator Vivian Lambert said that through their partnership with the Food Depository, the Seeds Center is able to offer a wide variety of healthy foods to their guests. She enjoys introducing people to food they might not normally eat – such as lentils or split peas.

Vivan Lambert poses for a photo.

Vivian Lambert is excited about the new food pantry and its potential impact on her community.

“Response to the pantry has been very, very good,” she said. “It’s a dignified atmosphere and people can choose what they want.” Lambert has seen the positive impact the soup kitchen has had on the community and hopes the new food pantry will have the same effect.

“It makes my life so fulfilling. At the end of the day, I know I helped somebody,” Lambert said. “I can go on knowing I helped put a smile on someone’s face.”

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