Lakeview Pantry Update
Lakeview Pantry distributed almost 1.5 million pounds — 750 tons — of food in fiscal 2014 (April 1, 2013–March 31, 2014) through its two service sites (3831 North Broadway and 1414 West Oakdale) and its Home Delivery program.
The Pantry made significant gains in other areas as well during FY14. The Client Services program developed new ways to help people find work and to access the resources they need to get their lives back on track. As its client population shifted northward from Lakeview into Uptown, the Pantry expanded the northern boundary of its service area in stages from Irving Park Boulevard to Montrose Avenue. And the Development Department raised almost 20 percent more than in the previous year, thanks largely to the generosity of individuals, who contributed 77 percent of all donations received in FY14.
The Pantry’s clients are mainly low-income people who live in the area bounded by Fullerton on the south, Damen on the west, Lake Michigan on the east, and Montrose Avenue. But the Pantry, which has grown significantly since its founding, in 1970, is very visible, both in its presence on North Broadway and when one is doing an Internet search for food assistance, and the number of people coming to the Pantry from outside its service area has doubled in the past two years. In fact, people come to the Pantry from all over Chicago, and from the suburbs — and even from Northwest Indiana and Southeast Wisconsin. The Pantry serves all first-time visitors with two weeks’ worth of food and, if they live outside the Pantry’s service area, refers them to an agency nearer to their home.
Almost half (48 percent) of the Pantry’s clients have an annual income of $12,000 or less. About 30 percent are working in some way, many of them in part-time or low-paying jobs; 46 percent are either disabled or retired. Forty-five percent of clients have at least one child under age 18 living with them. Current data show that 5.3 percent of the clients in the Pantry’s food distribution programs are homeless, meaning that they do not have an address, are staying at a shelter, or are living on the streets.
Many clients (46 percent) said in a survey that they had to choose between buying food and paying rent in the previous year, and 39 percent had to choose between buying food and buying needed medications. These choices no doubt became even more difficult late last year with the reduction in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps); the average reduction was about $11 a month, and the reduction for a family of four was $36 a month. Adding to the food insecurity of many Pantry clients was the termination early this year of long-term benefits to the unemployed.
Distributing food to hungry people remains the Pantry’s principal “business,” and the Pantry maintains a number of sources for food in order to keep a steady supply. About 40 percent of its food comes from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which distributes food on behalf of several government agencies and also acts as a wholesale distributor for items such as milk and eggs. Three Trader Joe’s stores donate an astonishing 37 percent of the Pantry’s food; other significant food donors include Whole Foods Market (6 percent), Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, Plum Market, and Walmart. The Pantry continues to supplement these supplies by purchasing some dairy products and high-protein foods not available from other sources.
The food distribution program functions six days a week, three at each site. Visitors receive a two-week supply of groceries once per month; a typical allotment includes fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy products, bread, and non-perishable items, along with hygiene supplies and clothing. For the homeless or those who lack cooking facilities, the Pantry provides “no cook” baskets that contain items with easy-to-open containers and ready-to-eat foods. Clients may also visit the Pantry weekly for supplemental bread and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the first quarter of 2014, following the last boundary extension to the north, representatives of about 150 households living in the expansion area came to the Pantry for food and other services; many had received a “welcome back” letter that the Pantry coordinator had sent to households that the Pantry had served previously but referred to another agency based on the old borders.
The Home Delivery program serves clients who are unable to come to a Pantry site to receive food due to disabilities. This program provides somewhat less food than the regular distribution because the volunteer delivery drivers are limited in how much they can carry, but the allotments include specialized packages for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Home Delivery frequently receives inquiries from people who learn of the program through the Pantry’s website, from other social service agencies, or by word of mouth. The program currently serves about 185 individuals in 150 households, about 5 percent more than a year ago.
The manager of Client Services held about 700 client meetings in FY14, helping people find housing or employment, counseling them on other issues, and referring them to other agencies for specialized services. In one of the most popular services offered during the second half of FY14, volunteers helped clients sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Most clients seeking jobs are either those with little workplace experience who need help with basic skills or people with many years of professional experience, and usually a college degree, who are among the long-term unemployed. With the latter group, the manager of Client Services usually provides emotional support, as these clients already have professional résumés and are skilled interviewees. The manager of Client Services has also begun a series of networking events for these clients with the help of members of the Pantry’s Young Leaders Board.
More than 1,000 individual volunteersand more than 300 volunteer groups gave 28,783 hours of their time to Lakeview Pantry in FY14. This is the equivalent of about 14 full-time staff and effectively doubled the Pantry’s “people power” in FY14. And the Development Department, in collaboration with the Director of Volunteers, launched the Volunteer Ambassador program, in which 45 volunteers are being trained as speakers representing the Pantry and as managers of other volunteers at community events.
The Development Department raised $1,448,517 in FY14, 18 percent more than in FY13 and 14 percent over budget, mainly because of a 52 percent increase in the size of gifts from individual donors.
In sum, Lakeview Pantry is making significant progress on all fronts, and the outlook for the long term is good. New challenges and opportunities will certainly arise, but the staff remain dedicated to fulfilling the Pantry’s vision of being a stable presence in the communities it serves, and a model of compassionate, effective, and collaborative service delivery.