Eric Butler was laid off last summer from his moving service job.
Then his wallet was stolen, said Butler, a 50-year-old resident of Chicago’s Fuller Park neighborhood. Since these two setbacks, he’s struggled to find enough work to pay for food and his various bills. With no ID card – and no birth certificate either – Butler said he’s been unable to find consistent work or access needed assistance.
Instead, he’s had to scrounge for odd jobs while he tries to obtain proper identification. Sometimes he has to choose between paying for food and keeping the heat on, Butler said.
“We’re in that situation right now,” Butler said, who hopes to go back to school eventually to study nursing. “I’m kind of panicking.”
The food pantry at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Fuller Park – part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s vast network of partner agencies in Cook County – has been a source of nourishment for Butler during his difficult time. On a recent morning at the pantry, Butler was among the dozens of people who braved the icy rain in order to obtain needed groceries. Volunteers greeted each guest with a welcoming smile. Some soft soul music filled the room.
“They try to make it good for you. If you know what you’re doing, you can put together a nice meal,” said Butler, who said he appreciated the mix of food offerings at the pantry, which included fresh produce and milk, in addition to packaged goods.
The Fellowship food pantry and soup kitchen serve between 250 and 375 families per month.
There’s no denying the need in Fuller Park. The South Side community area ranked among the most challenged in the city in terms of economic hardship, according to a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute. The study used a formula that considered employment, education, per capita income, poverty, crowded housing and dependency.
“It’s amazing to put a smile on others’ faces and help give them an abundance of food,” said Emma Daniels, 85, a longtime volunteer. “It’s so important to give back when you have plenty to give. You never know when that will change and you will need help, yourself.”
Many of those interviewed at the Fellowship food pantry on a recent morning were older adults on fixed incomes. Some were still supporting young children.
Dollie Williams, 67, helps care for four grandchildren, ages 4, 6, 7 and 9. Williams receives food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but her grandkids do not – which means the added food from the pantry is crucial, she said.
“Whatever they give me, I’m thankful for,” Williams said.
Johnny Gore, 60, also has mouths to feed. His four children range in age from 3 to 13 years old. Gore hasn’t been able to work since 2006 because of severe arthritis and hip replacement surgeries, he said.
Paying for even the most basic necessities is hard on a fixed income, he said.
“It’s really tough, but we try to make it work,” Gore said. “A lot of times we come down here (to the Fellowship pantry) and it helps.”
“It’s an uplifting experience. It gives us some kind of hope,” Gore said.
Odessa Woods, 62, is a retired preschool teacher of 40 years. Most preschools do not offer retirement, including Woods’ former employer, she said. She lives on Supplemental Security Income, which covers her rent and bills.
“A pantry like this is vital because people like me really need it,” Woods said. “Without it, I am not sure how I would eat.”