Aber Abueid was raised to give back.
Some of the Chicago Lawn native’s earliest memories are of helping out at the neighborhood food pantry Aber’s mother started when she was three years old. Her mother, Fatima Abueid, founded SANAD Social Services and its pantry more than 30 years ago.
Now 36, Aber serves as the pantry’s director. Her mother was the one who got her started, but decades later, Aber’s Islamic faith drives her to continue feeding her neighbors.
“For me, it’s a responsibility,” Aber explained while overseeing one of SANAD’s recent food distributions. “We’re on this earth for a very limited time, how are we going to use this time?”
SANAD Social Services, one of the Food Depository’s longest standing partners, has grown significantly over the past three decades. In that time, it has gone from serving neighbors out of the Abueid’s one-bedroom apartment to its current storefront on the corner of 63rd and Albany.
In 2020, during the first three months of the COVID-19 lockdown, SANAD’s pantry served nearly 20,000 people. A drastic increase in comparison to the 300 households they served per month before the pandemic.
“Don’t ask me how,” Aber said. “I have no idea how we got it done.”
The food pantry has continued to meet the need of its neighbors largely because of Fatima, who serves as a matriarch of the community. At 66, she is a force of life and love.
Fatima immigrated to Chicago from Palestine in the late 70’s and recalls the challenges she observed in the city’s neighborhoods because of drugs and gang violence.
Fatima wanted to eliminate the hate in her community, she said. That starts with giving families the basic resources they need, like food.
“The enemy is hunger," Fatima noted. "When you have a full stomach, you can do a million things.”
Rising costs increase challenges
Recently, what’s keeping households lined up around the corner of 63rd Street are the rising costs to simply survive. With inflation at a 40-year high, elevated prices for food, gas and other necessities make it even more difficult for families to get by.
“It’s not even the people that are struggling through poverty,” Aber said. “But the families that are working are still not making enough. They’re left to choose the basics. Do you want to survive? Do you want to pay your rent? Do you want to eat?”
Robertina Pacheco, 61, recently started turning to the food from the pantry to help fill her fridge at home. Her husband and her 23-year-old son work full time, but Pacheco lost her housekeeping job earlier in the pandemic. With no government assistance, the food she finds at the pantry helps alleviate the stress from additional expenses.
“Los ingresos no son suficientes,” she said. Our income is not enough.
For Elnora Camp, Social Security funds and the food pantry are helping keep her afloat.
Camp, 79, spent a decade as a mentor at a nearby school. She helped kids from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school – aiding them with homework or other pressing needs.
“I loved it,” she said. “Ms. Camp was one of their favorites, I think.”
Camps’s husband, with whom she would have celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary this year, died in 2009. Her main source of income is retirement benefits, but they don’t last the full month. She recently heard about SANAD’s food pantry when visiting the site for other services. Camp’s grateful for the program, she said.
“I’m not choicy because I can cook it and make it last,” she said about the groceries. “It helps.”
It just starts with food
For seasonal workers, like Mateo Guzman, SANAD has helped provide a variety of benefits including resources to pay rent and bills. SANAD is also able to provide additional services for employment and temporary shelter.
Guzman, 62, works primarily as a landscaper but during the winter off season, he resorts to housekeeping and cleaning jobs. He lives with his wife and son, who are also employed, but the food from the pantry is one less thing they have to worry about.
He’s been leaning on the pantry for about four years and is grateful for the variety of food they have to offer.
“Cuando no trabaja uno, todo lo que se lleva es un alivio,” he explained. When you’re not working, this is a huge relief.
SANAD is still serving at higher rates compared to pre-COVID with no end in sight. But Fatima, Aber and their volunteers say they are determined to not let the demand slow them down.
“The fact that we’re able to help somebody is what it’s all about,” Aber said. “Taking care of each other. Being there for each other. It just starts with the food.”