As the “newbie” on staff, I’d like to share some of my initial impressions for those of you who may also be new to Lakeview Pantry.
Long before my start here, I was familiar with the positive reputation of Lakeview Pantry and that it was one of the busiest pantries in the Chicago area in terms of clients.
Now that I’m on the inside, what have I learned?
Lakeview Pantry is a warm and welcoming place for our neighbors who are challenged by food insecurity and low incomes. Like many of our new clients, I was pleasantly surprised by the large basket of food we provide – a two week supply of meat, dairy, fresh produce, bread and staple items. And thanks to our generous donors, we often stick in bouquets of fresh flowers. A first-time client I served recently said, “I thought I was just going to get milk for my kids. I didn’t know I’d get all this food. I’m not sure I can get it all home!”
We recognize how difficult it can be to walk through the doors of a social service agency. When clients walk in, they are greeted with friendly faces and classical music in the background. Like your local deli or bakery, our neighbors are served in bright facilities, draw a number, and choose and pack their items at a counter. For our clients who on average make $750/month, our food basket makes it easier to balance their household budgets.
What I was startled to learn was that there are only 10 full-time staff members. It is an army of volunteers who keep daily operations humming by unloading trucks, stocking shelves, sorting food, delivering groceries, updating our database, making copies, filing records, and most importantly, serving our neighbors.
Also, I’m impressed with the focus on program evaluation. When I started, I read the 2005 client satisfaction survey conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and was pleased to see changes put in place as a result, e.g., providing background music and reading materials in the waiting areas. While the 2010 survey showed 98% satisfaction with our services and food, our team continues to look for ways to improve our services. Our Volunteer Program also uses regular surveys as our volunteers are on the front lines and often have helpful feedback on our programs and procedures.
Lastly, I have found the local support to be incredible! All day long, neighbors walk in with arms full of donated food, clothing, and financial contributions. Our vans are out every day picking up food from our partner grocery stores. Local faith communities and groups host regular and specialty food drives. I frequently walk into the office in the morning to see a counter full of donated items.
Certainly there are challenges: our waiting areas, storage facilities, and staff offices are bursting at the seams. However, our team is focused on decreasing wait times for our clients, and evaluating our space.
In short, I am thrilled to be here and to be part of a compassionate and creative team! Lakeview Pantry is a true community organization that offers all kinds of opportunities for our neighbors – from those who have immediate material needs to those who want to contribute their time and talent.
These are a few of my impressions. I invite you to come in (3831 N. Broadway) anytime so that you can form your own your opinion – we’d love to meet you!