St. Mary of the Lake moves pop-up to Lakeview Pantry

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, October 7, 2020

St. Mary of the Lake moves pop-up to Lakeview Pantry

Volunteers from St. Mary of the Lake Parish, in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood, distribute food at the Lakeview Pantry on Oct. 4, 2020. In April, St. Mary of the Lake started the city’s first pop-up pantry on the steps of the parish and served more than 20,000 Chicago families through June. The new location of the pantry will be at Lakeview Pantry – Sheridan Market, 3945 N. Sheridan Road. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sylvia Rajska from St. Mary of the Lake Parish moves boxes of food at the pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers distribute boxes of food to visitors outside of the pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kellie O’Connell, CEO of Lakeview Pantry, and Father Manuel Dorantes, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Parish, talk during the pop-up pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Shortly after the pandemic hit, parishioners of St. Mary of the Lake Church, 4220 N. Sheridan Road, mobilized and opened a pop-up food pantry to serve those in the immigrant and refugee communities who were experiencing food insecurity as a result of job loss or other factors.

They served thousands of people out of the church each Sunday through June and continued doing home deliveries in the following months.

On Oct. 4, the parish made the pop-up pantry a more long-term ministry when it launched a partnership with nearby Lakeview Pantry to operate out of that location each week.

“We are finding a permanent home to do what we thought was going to be a temporary mission,” said Father Manuel Dorantes, during the pantry’s opening. “When the city reopened and the state reopened, we asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to do now? The need remains. What do we do?’”

St. Mary’s parishioners will run the pop-up out of Lakeview Pantry on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m., when the pantry is normally closed. The food giveaway is open to anyone who lives in the Chicago area, regardless of whether they are documented or not, Dorantes said.

“The point is, if you are in need, come,” he said.

Lakeview Pantry, located a few blocks south of the church, has been in the community for 50 years and distributes food six days a week. It also offers social services such as mental health counseling.

Before COVID-19, visitors could come inside the pantry and choose the food they wanted. Now, as at other pantries across the city, they are given prepackaged boxes of food at the door, said Kellie O’Connell, CEO of Lakeview Pantry.

“As we were thinking about the partnership, it made a lot of sense to utilize this space that was closed down on Sundays for their ministry,” O’Connell said. “St. Mary of the Lake is providing volunteers right after church and we’re providing food.”

On Oct. 4, visitors to the pantry received a box of dry goods and a box of produce. The pantry hopes to add dairy and protein in the weeks to come.

Dorantes doesn’t want parishioners to sign up to volunteer at the pantry to just fill spots. He plans to establish teams that will volunteer together and be able to get to know one another.

“That’s my hope, that this will be a real community,” he said.

The pop-up pantry has energized the parish community, he said.

“For us it was a blessing. To me the opportunity has been in the response of the community. People were really engaged with this. While the doors were locked [due to COVID-19], we were working,” he said. “I told the volunteers, ‘This will be a continuation of what we do at Mass on Sunday to then come here and feed the hungry.’”

At first, the pop-up pantry upset some of the neighbors because of the high number of people who came and clogged the streets around the church. There was also a lot of legitimate fear about spreading the virus, Dorantes said. Eventually, many neighbors became supporters of the effort and also volunteered.

For one volunteer, the food pantry has borne unexpected fruit. Lisa Von Drehle lives in the neighborhood and grew up Unitarian. She began volunteering with the food pantry and was inspired by the people.

“I loved the community. When the pop-up pantry ended at the church, I thought, ‘how do I keep this community?’ It didn’t take much thinking to realize I keep this community by going to church,” Von Drehle said.

And she’s open to whatever will come from it.

“I absolutely have no Christian faith. I’m not an agnostic or atheist but there was no question to me that this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve gone to Mass pretty much every week since and I love it.”

Michael Bland is part of the parish’s 200-member COVID-19 response team and was one of 50 pantry volunteers blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane at a Mass on Oct. 4 prior to the opening at Lakeview Pantry. He said the pantry has benefited not just the visitors but the volunteers.

“It’s given meaning and it’s given purpose,” he said. “It’s made my and many others’ faith come alive.”



  • hunger
  • parishes

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