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Hunger Beat

South suburban food pantry spreads the love this holiday season

“It’s a blessing to have a place like this, where people can receive help when they need it,” said Jacqueline Maxson, 60, as she shopped through the aisles at the Hattie B. Williams food pantry in Oak Forest. She was selecting everyday essentials and special holiday favorites at the pantry’s annual holiday food distribution.

Though this was only Maxson’s second visit, the pantry has already had a big impact on her life. Maxson recently had a stroke, which has prevented her from working for several weeks.

“This is a lot of help. I have many people to feed, and this pantry has made that easier for me,” she said, gesturing toward her two grandchildren, Aaliyah, 9, and Kamarion, 7, for whom she is a caretaker.

“I know these kids can’t wait to eat this food,” she said. “I’m just so grateful.”

Jaqueline Maxson and her grandchildren pick out food from the pantry.

A volunteer helps Maxson's granddaughter, Aaliyah, pick out food for their family. (Photos by Abel Uribe for the Food Depository)

This holiday season, the Food Depository will distribute over 980,000 pounds of holiday food to partner locations like the Hattie B. Williams pantry. Motivated by the belief that everyone deserves to enjoy a festive meal with their loved ones, we will provide approximately 140,000 households in Chicago and Cook County with a holiday meal this season.

The specialty holiday foods include turkeys, hams, whole chickens, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce, and are in addition to items the Food Depository distributes year-round, like green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots and onions, which are also used in holiday meals.

A family poses with their turkeys at the Hattie B. food pantry.

Sisters, Twala Brooks and Catalina Berry, bring home a turkey each to share with their families.

“Because of this food pantry, we eat good,” said Twala Brooks, 45, who attended Hattie B.’s holiday food distribution with her son, Keigan, 12, and her sister, Catalina. “It means everything to us,” she said.

Twala has been visiting the pantry since 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of Hattie B., my son was able to eat good during COVID, when it was hard to put food on the table,” she said.

The Hattie B. pantry has been feeding people in their south-suburban community since 1991, when their namesake, the late Hattie B. Williams, saw a need in the community and decided to do something about it. Initially, she operated the pantry in a 100-square-foot classroom at a church in South Holland, before relocating to Oak Forest.

Annie Hill poses with a van lent to the Hattie B. pantry from the Food Depository.

Annie Hill stands outside the pantry with a van donated to Hattie B. by the Food Depository so they can rescue quality, surplus food from local grocery stores.

Pantry coordinator Annie Hill has led the pantry since 2014, when her sister, Hattie B., passed away. “There is a huge need for this food pantry in our community,” Hill said.

On average, the pantry serves 778 households a month, or 2,235 individuals. More than 60 percent of the people they serve come from nearby Robbins, Harvey, Calumet Park, Dixmoor, Dolton and Ford Heights, which are some of the communities with the highest food insecurity rates in the Chicago area.

In 2019, a powerful storm devastated almost half of Oak Forest, including the Hattie B. pantry. Thanks to private funding and support from the Food Depository, Hattie B. was able to construct a brand-new building at the same Oak Forest location, growing over nine times in size from the original building. The pantry recently celebrated its official reopening.

Annie Hill speaking at Hattie B.'s grand reopening.

Annie Hill speaks at Hattie B.'s grand reopening.

“It’s going to help so many people,” Betty Seaton, 78, said of the new 3,660-square-foot building. “It’s made a big difference already because it is able to accommodate more people and get more food into the community.”

Seaton, a retired hospice nurse living on a fixed income, has been visiting the pantry since its founding in 1991. “It’s a blessing to have this place. It is truly a blessing,” she said.

Hattie B. pantry guest, Betty Seaton, praises God for the food she received.

Betty Seaton is grateful for the food she received at Hattie B.'s holiday food distribution.

“People from all walks of life come to this pantry, from all different situations. Everybody is welcome here at Hattie B.,” said Hill. “We don’t judge people here; we help people. We do it because we love people.”

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