On a brisk, sun-splashed morning the week before Thanksgiving, volunteers of the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels food pantry in West Humboldt Park busily prepared to serve food to families in need.

Wearing shiny blue jerseys provided by Our Lady of the Angels, they hauled out shopping carts of turkeys, boxes of pies, bags of potatoes and other holiday sundries. The newbies soon got into a rhythm alongside the veterans, everyone quietly working together under the direction of the Franciscan nuns.

Soon, the cars lined up to receive food; others walked up on foot with handcarts. Here are some glimpses from that day of service. All photos taken by photographer Jason Muelver.

Bishop Bob Lombardo and Sister Stephanie Baliga are steadfast leaders in the Franciscan order serving West Humboldt Park.

Bishop Bob Lombardo and Sister Stephanie Baliga are steadfast leaders in the Franciscan order serving West Humboldt Park.

Like other partners of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Our Lady of the Angels has seen a significant increase in the number of people turning to them for food during the pandemic.

The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels food pantry is a Food Depository partner.

The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels food pantry is a Food Depository partner.

In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, the Our Lady of the Angels food pantry served more than 1,400 families.

The Food Depository's network of food pantries and similar programs is serving an average of 50 percent more people in need compared to January.

The Food Depository’s network of food pantries and similar programs is serving an average of 50 percent more people in need compared to January.

“Our numbers continue to increase,” said Sister Stephanie Baliga. “More people from the neighborhood but people are coming from farther away, too.”

Volunteers wait for the holiday food distribution to begin at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in West Humboldt Park.

Volunteers wait for the holiday food distribution to begin at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in West Humboldt Park.

Safety continues to be the largest concern, Baliga said.

“If one of us gets COVID,” she said, “it would shut down the whole thing.”

That hasn’t happened yet.

The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels serves a great need in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago's West Side.

The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels serves a great need in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

“We also know that Jesus has got this,” Baliga said. “If we cooperate with the suffering and difficulties of the pandemic, we’ll come out stronger in the end.”

A family leaves a holiday food distribution with a turkey, pies and other holiday food.

A family leaves a holiday food distribution with a turkey, pies and other holiday food.

Many families are turning to the food pantry for the first time ever, Bishop Bob Lombardo said. At the beginning of the crisis, the Franciscans began delivering food to their elderly neighbors and others at higher risk of the virus.

“It’s been a challenge for us,” he said. “And it’s also been a beautiful experience.”

Bishop Bob Lombardo directs a car in to the holiday food distribution.

Bishop Bob Lombardo directs a car in to the holiday food distribution.

Recruiting volunteers hasn’t been a problem, the bishop said. To the contrary, the pantry has had to turn them away at times because of safety.

“Once again it shows, our American spirit in our people is goodness,” Lombardo said. “And we just see it overflowing.”

Our Lady of the Angels plans to continue with outdoor distributions until the pandemic subsides.

Our Lady of the Angels plans to continue with outdoor distributions until the pandemic subsides.

Like many Food Depository partners, the Our Lady of the Angels food pantry is bracing for a difficult winter ahead with the economy in tatters and the pandemic wreaking havoc.

Chicagoans will rise to the challenge.

“It’s sort of the DNA out here,” he said. “People step up and want to help.”

Volunteers load pies and other holiday food into a car.

Volunteers load pies and other holiday food into a car.