During a recent visit to her local food pantry, Amber Lofton didn’t just receive fresh groceries.
She also took home new toys for her three young boys.
Lofton explained that her eldest son’s ninth birthday was the following week. Coincidentally, the volunteers at Brookfield’s Share Food Share Love pantry had children’s telescope – leftover from their holiday distribution – that she knew her son would love.
“He’s really good with science and math,” she said. She was also able to pick up some small surprises for her 3-year-old twins.
Lofton, 33, has been visiting the pantry for the last two years. She’s able to lean on family for support with her and her boys. But the pantry, she said, helps balance their resources out.
“This literally will push us over to the next month,” she said.
Share Food Share Love has been helping suburban families put food on their tables for the last six years. With its recent move from a church basement to a building nearly triple the size, its leaders are hopeful that they’ll be able to reach even more people.
“It’s going to open up a lot of different opportunities for us,” said John Dumas, who oversees the pantry alongside his wife, Linda.
Finding room to grow
Share Food Share Love began at Brookfield’s Faith Lutheran Church when its small congregation, Linda explained, was looking for a way to support its community.
The Dumas’, who have been married for nearly 30 years, have been involved since the beginning. They both joked that John volunteered both himself and Linda for the job.
“I said (to John), ‘I’m happy to do this but I’m not going to be there every week,” Linda, 66, recalled. She’s now retired, but at the time she had a busy job as a nurse manager.
But that quickly changed as she grew attached to the mission.
“You hear the stories, you build some relationships with people,” she said. “When you hear what the need is and you see how appreciative people are, it seems like a small thing to do.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they were serving around 60 households each week, though the numbers often fluctuated. As a result of the pandemic, not only did those numbers remain consistently high, but the team began seeing new faces – many of whom had never been to a food pantry before. With the recent omicron surge and some federal pandemic aid expiring, they have once again seen an influx in visitors.
Once the pandemic hit, the pantry operated outside of the church, allowing guests to pick up pre-packed bags and boxes of food from their cars.
But eventually, the talk of moving the pantry back indoors began.
“And we thought, ‘Wait, we can’t fit in there anymore,’” John recalled. “We realized we had to do something because it wasn’t going to work.”
The growth prompted them to search for a bigger space of their own. They moved into their new home, a 7,000 square foot former warehouse on Brookfield Avenue, this winter.
The pantry has remodeled the building’s entrance and office space as a registration and waiting room for its guests. In the old industrial space, there are now aisles and shelves of fresh food from which guests can choose.
Serving beyond food
Doug Philp has been turning to Share Food Share Love for several years, since it was operating in the old church space. Philp, 58, was a truck driver doing local deliveries for over 30 years. He had to stop working in November after receiving a knee replacement.
“The beginning was real, real tough,” he said of the recovery. “But, every day, you get stronger.”
Once his knee gets stronger, he plans on finding part-time work outside of trucking. To make ends meet, Philp receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, but the pantry is an extra support system, he said.
“This is wonderful,” he said. “One of the best things I’ve ever found out about it.”
With its extra space, the Dumas’ hope to help their neighbors beyond just food. The ultimate goal is to also host other social service organizations.
Eventually, John said the site could become a central location for food, clothes, children’s programming, or other needed resources in the community.
“We’re just beginning to see the possibilities,” he said.