Holy Spirit Takes Food-Pantry Concept to New Heights
By Adrienne Fawcett
The Friday before Thanksgiving, volunteers of The Church of the Holy Spirit food pantry joyfully gave away 100 frozen turkeys.
But then, every day is joyful at the food pantry, which revamped its operations at the start of 2020 and has grown from serving 500 people in 2019 to an expected 10,000 in 2021.
Volunteers take curbside orders from customers of the food pantry at The Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic the food ministry has flourished in ways no one could have imagined but God,” says the Rev. Luke Back, who heads The Church of the Holy Spirit. “When we had to shut down services, Holy Communion changed from giving out a little piece of bread and sip of wine to giving out a loaf of sandwich bread and bottles of apple juice to people in need.”
That and a whole lot more, including fresh produce and eggs; frozen meat, chicken and pork; dried beans, rice, pasta and grits; canned food and jarred sauces; cereals, cookies, crackers and snacks; baking supplies; sandwich bread; peanut butter and jelly -- and more. The offerings go beyond food and include toilet paper, soap, cleaning supplies and toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Parishioner Anne Frost lovingly managed the food pantry for more than 30 years. When she retired at the start of 2020, parishioners John Harper, Margaret Walker and Kathy Newcomb became co-chairs, and with blessings from the church’s governing body, they greatly expanded the pantry’s selection and started offering curbside shopping, a 24/7 hotline and free delivery.
But it’s not just about the food.
“We are in the hospitality business,” says Harper. “When someone arrives at the parking lot of our beautiful church, it can be intimidating, so we are joyful, and we are loving, and we work hard to ensure everyone’s dignity is preserved. We are not serving food: We are sharing our blessings.” Some feel shame going to a food pantry, and The Church of the Holy Spirit is trying to reduce that obstacle. Volunteers only ask for a guest’s household location and number of people in the household. This is part of the effort to maintain guests’ dignity; greeting people joyfully and not asking about their income.
Harper has purchased nearly 5,000 pounds of food per week this month from Northern Illinois Food Bank as well as sourcing products at Aldi, Jewel, Target and Amazon for the best prices. Storage space for food and supplies is 12 times larger today than it was prior to 2020. This includes the original food pantry, which is about the size of a large walk-in closet, plus a community room that was once used as a clothing resale shop. The food ministry also has storage shelves, refrigerators and freezers in a first-floor work room and basement storage room.
Products are brought outdoors in organized carts and coolers. Customers pull up to the curb in the parking lot and place orders with volunteers while waiting in their cars. They are given one or two base bags of supplies, depending on household size, and they then may choose items from the carts and coolers. The selection is impressive and respectful of food preferences and dietary restrictions. Many shop for their neighbors and extended family as well as their own families; the only information requested is their town name and number of people in the household. Often, customers leave with their car trunks and back seats filled with food.
The pantry serves customers from all over the area. Curbside shopping is open Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call the hotline if the hours aren’t convenient or transportation is an issue: 847-235-1107. You can also call that number for information about volunteering for the food ministry or donating food or money.