Soup kitchen at Waukegan parish doesn’t stop for pandemic

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Soup kitchen at Waukegan parish doesn’t stop for pandemic

Volunteers and staff at Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan prepare and serve hot meals to people in need on Aug. 28, 2020. The parish soup kitchen has been operating continually during the pandemic. With social distancing measures in place, the soup kitchen offers a hot meal, a drink and dessert plus a "goodie bag" to each person who comes to the kitchen door. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
From left, volunteers Alejandra Navarette, Yolanda Flores, Camilla Navarette and Rigoberto Navarette pack up Mexican rice and beans at the soup kitchen. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Antioco Flores and Enrique Hernandez Estrada add drinks to the bags with meals. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Frances (Pancha) Gonzalez, director of the soup kitchen, moves a box before the soup kitchen opens. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Rigoberto Navarrette puts bags of food into a basket, which will be taken to the door of the soup kitchen. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
When COVID-19 forced the kitchen to stop in-person dining, they switched to serving the hot meals in to-go containers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Elvira Retana packages up hot meals in the kitchen. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Visitors stand in line for meals outside Holy Family Soup Kitchen. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yolanda Flores gives out food to a client. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When COVID-19 forced many soup kitchens to close down, the Holy Family Soup Kitchen at Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan didn’t miss a day. Instead, it shifted from serving hot meals in person to distributing those meals in to-go containers at the door.

“We’ve kept going,” said Frances (Pancha) Gonzalez, director of the soup kitchen. “There’s always going to be a hungry heart out there. People need to be fed.”

Holy Family Soup Kitchen, which has been operating for over 30 years, is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and serves about 80 people each night. The church also operates a food pantry one day a week.

Each person who comes receives a salad, a main meal with meat and vegetables, a dessert and a drink. They also receive a “goody bag” with snacks. Each meal comes with eating utensils and many guests sit outside and eat their meals right away.

“They get a four-course meal here,” Gonzalez said.

Some take an extra meal home with them.

“We have a lot of older people who come who have people at home who are bedridden,” Gonzalez said.

Most evenings, volunteers cook the meals on site. Other evenings, the food is donated from local restaurants. Food donations come from area grocery stores and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Any food the soup kitchen has left over is shared with the food pantry or social service organizations in the community.

Gonzalez is on staff at Most Blessed Trinity and the parish is grateful for her work, said Father Tim O’Malley, pastor.

“Pancha is great. She’s here. She organizes volunteers. She keeps this place clean. It’s just remarkable,” O’Malley said. “And she’s so good with the people.”

Since she has been working at the soup kitchen for many years, Gonzalez has come to know many of the people who attend and says they are missing the socialization of the in-person meals.

“A lot of these people are single, divorced, widowed, whatever. And this was their social hour,” Gonzalez said.

“It’s a big family thing,” said O’Malley. “It’s just a wonderful community.”

Since Thanksgiving falls on a day when the soup kitchen is open, volunteers regularly serve a full meal on the holiday. If Christmas falls on a day that it is open, volunteers serve Christmas dinner too.

Different groups of about six people come in each evening to cook and serve. More volunteers were present before the pandemic, but social distancing limits the number now.

Volunteers come from many faith backgrounds, Gonzalez said.

“It doesn’t make a difference who they are. All they know is they are coming in to feed someone and that’s the whole thing behind it,” she said. “It’s beautiful. Everybody opens their hearts.”

For information about volunteering at the soup kitchen, call the parish at 847-623-2655.


  • hunger
  • parishes

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