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When the relatively small congregation at Hillside Free Methodist Church,

2727 Crawford Ave.

, opened the doors to its food pantry in May of this year, no one could have predicted the enormous response it would receive.

In just three months, the Hillside Food Pantry has grown from serving 30 families to nearly 900 families. 

Rev. Maiya Lueptow, associate pastor of the church and director of the food pantry, says one of the church’s stated goals this year was to be more effective in meeting a critical community need.

“It has become quite obvious this is a huge need,” says Rev. Lueptow, referring to the rapid growth of the food pantry, serving residents of Evanston, Wilmette and Skokie.

Rev. Lueptow says the food pantry is helping families who have found themselves caught in today’s difficult financial reality.

“Our patrons are not just the chronically poor,” she says. “Some of the people who come here might own a home in a nice neighborhood, but have lost a job and are having trouble making ends meet.”

The food pantry has no income or residency requirements, but patrons must show some identification. The pantry is open Wednesdays 4-6 p.m. and Saturdays 2-4 p.m.

From Humble Beginnings

It all began with just one family helping another family.  About two years ago Faith and Mike Albano, members of the Hillside Free Methodist Church, volunteered to pick up food donated by Jewel Foods for the Willow Creek Food Pantry in Barrington. 

“Through our connection with the Willow Creek Food Pantry, we agreed to help feed a refugee family from Myanmar,” says Ms. Albano. “We were also given extra food to distribute to Evanston families.”

The Albanos stored most of the overflow of food in their own freezer, donating leftovers to the Good News Community Kitchen in Rogers Park.

Before long, the food donations were more than the Albanos could manage. The new Hillside pastor, Mark Taylor, offered to move the storage and distribution process into the parsonage basement.

A Ministry Launched

By the spring of 2009, it became clear the pantry would need larger space.

“We decided to convert the church garage into an
official food pantry,” says Rev. Lueptow. “That is when
it began to take on a life of its own.” 

Members of the congregation worked together to
renovate the garage, says Rev. Lueptow. Drywall and insulation were installed, and the space was equipped
with freezers, refrigerators and shelving units.

The pantry soon became affiliated with the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository, allowing Hillside to pick up donations from the depository in Chicago as well as receive food directly from participating grocery stores.

“The Albanos and Taylors have built a strong relationship with the managers of Jewel Foods in Wilmette‘s Plaza del Lago,” says Rev. Lueptow.

Volunteers from the food pantry pick up donated or “rescued” food from Jewel Foods twice a day, five days a week.  Food donations include milk, produce and meat. 

“This is good food that would otherwise be thrown away,” says Rev. Lueptow.

Bringing People Together

Rev. Lueptow says she is grateful that, as the demand continues to grow, so have the numbers of volunteers and food donations.

“Three months ago, we had less than a dozen volunteers.  Today we have at least 40,” she says.  “It has been enormously satisfying to witness all the people who have come together to make this work.”

“It has been a blessing to be involved in something basically very simple, yet having such a huge impact on somebody’s life,” adds Ms. Albano.

To become involved in the Hillside Food Pantry,
contact Rev. Maiya Lueptow at 847-328-7182.