Food pantry perseveres despite pandemic

Saint John Lutheran Church Food Pantry, located in Joliet, is responsible for assisting approximately 300 households with food every Saturday.

“[We distribute food] drive-through style, starting around 8:30 a.m. and ending whenever we have the food handed out – usually around 10 a.m.,” Pastor Robin Caldwell said. “To prepare for our distribution, we receive a food delivery from the Northern Illinois Food Bank Wednesday mornings. One evening a week volunteers come in to pre-box non-perishable food.”

Before the pandemic broke out, the food pantry would serve food three days a week; however, the COVID crisis has suspended the receiving of food three days a week from local grocery stores Jewel and Fresh Thyme. Volunteers would pick up donated produce, dairy, and meat products.

“Normally, we do welcome food drive donations from schools and other organizations, but due to COVID precautions, we ask that people support the food pantry by donating through our website www.stjohnfood.org or mailing a check to St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry,” Caldwell said.

Currently, food deliveries are purchased and received from the Northern Illinois Food Bank once a week. The budget used to make such purchases come from the community.

“A $1 donation allows us to purchase $8 worth of groceries through the Northern Illinois Food Bank,” Caldwell said. “So, no donation is too small, and every dollar is appreciated and used wisely!”

Food deliveries were not the only thing that has been altered these past few months. In 2019, approximately 3,900 households were served from March to July. That number has increased by 2,500 households with around 6,400 households being served from March to July in 2020.

“The number of households we served jumped 40% April to September, compared to our previous weekly average. Currently, we are at approximately 28% more,” Pastor Caldwell said. “We had to make changes in our budget and food ordering to serve the increased number of households in need.”

Taking care of volunteers is equally as important as helping those that rely on St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry. A drive-through service was implemented to reduce risk for everyone involved. The idea was to limit contact by having volunteers place food directly into the trunks of those that come through.

As with all other organizations, the food pantry has required masks, encouraged social distancing, and introduced a health assessment before volunteering. Gloves are always worn when handling food. Caldwell also notes that “carts, pens, light switches, doorknobs, etc. [are sanitized] after our shifts.”

Not only has how volunteers are helping changed, but those that are volunteering have shifted as well.

“Previously, our volunteers were primarily of retirement age,” Caldwell said, noting how the congregation and community stepped up to help once COVID restrictions went into place. “We had to create an almost entirely new volunteer team of people who were in lower risk categories. We have an enthusiastic and committed team of volunteers who are making a difference in our neighborhood.”

One thing that COVID cannot deter is St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry’s plans to continue to support their community throughout the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals will be given out during regular Saturday distributions thanks to partnerships with Jewel Grocery Store (Caton Farm Road and Rt. 59, Plainfield), Baird and Warner, Plainfield, and the Northern IL Food Bank.

“The organizations we have partnered with have been extremely generous in helping us to serve so many this year,” Caldwell said.
For those interested in volunteering at Saint John Lutheran Church Food Pantry, go to www.stjohnfood.org.

“Signing up is easy,” Caldwell said. “Click on Volunteer to complete a simple application. Our volunteer coordinator will contact you to get you on the schedule!”