With her folding shopping cart in tow, Ava Mitchell walked about 40 minutes in the frigid cold to make it to the St. Ignatius Parish.
Along the way, she said, parts of the sidewalk in Rogers Park were icy and not yet shoveled following a recent snowfall.
But despite the harsh conditions, Mitchell, 59, said it was one of the best walks she had all year.
It led her to the doors of St. Ignatius’ food pantry, where community members facing hunger receive a helping hand. This was Mitchell’s first time visiting the pantry – one of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s partner agencies – on the city’s North Side, which serves an average of 250 households each month.
A positive mind, she said, is what kept her going on that winter afternoon.
“And plus, my cart was empty,” she quipped.
After going through the pantry – now with an overflowing cart filled with fresh produce, pasta, canned goods, and other items to feed her large household of children and grandchildren – Mitchell acknowledged it would be an even more difficult trip home. But even so, she maintained a can-do attitude.
Mitchell turned to the pantry at a time when she said her resources were running thin, making it difficult to afford food. Her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits expired, Mitchell said, and health issues forced her to leave her job as a home healthcare worker. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments she underwent following a breast cancer diagnosis weakened her immune system.
Today, she is one-year cancer free, but she said she still deals with those residual effects from the treatments.
“I’m going each day as it comes,” Mitchell said.
“Nobody should be starving or (not able to) find something to eat. There’s always something or some place you can go.”
She’s applied for other jobs and reapplied for SNAP. In the meantime, she said she’s received support from relatives over the last couple months, which has helped put food on the table for her family. At home, she provides for her twin sons – one of whom she said is in college and the other in a job training program – her daughter, and Mitchell’s two young grandchildren. She said her daughter recently moved back in with her kids after falling on hard times.
“It’s still on me to provide, and this is why I’m here,” she said, referring to the pantry. “And I’m so grateful.”
When there’s no – or very little – food at home, Mitchell said, places like St. Ignatius mean “more than anybody can imagine.”
“Nobody should be starving or (not able to) find something to eat,” she said. “There’s always something or some place you can go.”
Amid hardships, Mitchell said what keeps her moving forward is her faith.
“I just pray,” she said. “I just pray, and I thank the Lord if I have something or I don’t have anything, I still thank him. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Because some people are worse than I am.”