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Hunger Beat

Gage Park pantry embraces a guest-choice model

Jacqueline G. has called Gage Park home for more than three decades. She lives alone, and due to her multiple illnesses, is unable to work. Jacqueline receives monthly disability and Social Security benefits, but it’s still not enough to afford everyday necessities.

“Between rent, the car, car insurance, life insurance, the things you pay for in life every day, I’m lucky if I end up with maybe 20 bucks in my pocket every month,” she said.

Thankfully, Jacqueline discovered the food pantry at St. Gall Catholic Church, a longtime partner of the Food Depository, and has been visiting ever since.

“This pantry was a godsend,” she said. “This is how I survive.”

St. Gall’s pantry opened its doors to Gage Park residents more than 20 years ago. It now serves 150 households a week. Many of the guests are older adults and, like Jacqueline, struggle to make ends meet on their Social Security benefits.

Guests wait in line to access the pantry.

St. Gall guests wait in line to access the new pantry.

During the pandemic, St. Gall operated as a drive-up pantry, with volunteers distributing bags of pre-packaged food to guests. Pantry staff saw the growing need in their community as an effect of the pandemic. They decided that change was necessary to better serve their community and partnered with the Food Depository to renovate their space.

St. Gall’s pantry reopened its doors in November 2023, and for the first time, pantry guests were able to choose exactly which items they wanted, ensuring that no food went to waste.

"Now they get to pick what they need and don't need,” said pantry coordinator Priscilla Estrada.

“We’re very blessed, it’s been beautiful,” said Reverend Matt Foley, Pastor of St. Gall.

“The Food Depository helped us buy refrigerators and get shelving. The variety of opportunities that they (guests) have now is so wonderful.”

Priscilla Estrada, St. Gall pantry coordinator

Pantry Coordinator Priscilla Estrada is excited for her community to have access to the new pantry.

Because they serve many Latino neighbors, the pantry tries to provide guests with foods that are frequently used in Latin-American cuisines. "We try to get more beans, chiles, peppers, chicken, all that good stuff," said Estrada.

The Food Depository is committed to ensuring that pantry guests are able to obtain food that is culturally relevant. Pantries like St. Gall can request foods specific to their community's needs in order to provide their guests with items that they enjoy eating and preparing.

Jacqueline gets creative to make the food she chooses stretch. "The last pack of chicken legs (I got here), I made some baked, some fried. I cut some of the legs off and I made chicken stir fry with the rice,” she said. “I made chicken tacos. I can cook!”

Volunteers and guests at St. Gall pantry

Volunteers assist guests in navigating the new food pantry.

The staff and volunteers at St. Gall are excited about the new guest-choice model – and about expanding their distribution from one to two days a week in the near future so they can serve even more neighbors.

“The Greater Chicago Food Depository has allowed us this wonderful gift to give to others,” said Father Foley.

“We’re able to say to people – newly arrived individuals, people that have been here for years, people that are without employment – that they’re able to come here and supplement their tables with wonderful food.”

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