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.
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.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, the Our Lady of the Angels food pantry served more than 1,400 families.
“Our numbers continue to increase,” said Sister Stephanie Baliga. “More people from the neighborhood but people are coming from farther away, too.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”