Chicago-area food pantries work to feed hungry ahead of Thanksgiving, say need has grown

Mark Rivera Image
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Chicago-area food pantries say need has grown
Nourishing Hope Food Pantry in Lakeview, Woodstock volunteers and more are working to feed the hungry this Thanksgiving.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There is a wide-ranging effort across Chicagoland to feed those in need ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, but organizers say while helping others this time of year is top of mind, the need and effort occur all year long. And that need is growing in the city and suburbs.

It was a fantastic flurry of activity at Lakeview's Nourishing Hope Food Pantry Wednesday. Volunteers were seen pushing carts packed to the brim for the hundreds of people lining the block ahead of the holiday. Clients Mary and her children were full of gratitude.

"Thankful for what we have and thankful for everybody around here, because, if it wasn't for them, we probably wouldn't have Thanksgiving dinner," Mary said.

She said she's a single mom with four kids, who went home fully stocked, fixings and all, for a delightful holiday amid dire economic realities.

"It is very hard to make ends meet, and, if it wasn't for this food pantry, we would not be able to make ends meet with food and everything because it's so expensive. So I really appreciate them," Mary said.

Nourishing Hope CEO Kellie O'Connell said that need for food is only increasing.

"This year alone, we've seen about 25% over last year. So we're at levels higher than that peak of COVID," O'Connell said.

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O'Connell said the triple crisis of inflation, reduced government benefits and the large influx of migrants to the city are all driving that historic need. The pantry is now serving double the number of families with kids from just two years ago.

"What gives me hope is people coming in to help each other and help our neighbors, and making sure that we're welcoming people into our city with dignity and respect," O'Connell said.

At the Woodstock train station, there was a different kind of food giveaway for those who are food insecure and unhoused. Hats, coats, gloves and even vouchers for free Thanksgiving meals were being given out, in a place where the need, organizers say, continues to grow.

"There's people that are hungry. That doesn't mean they're homeless. Our county is no different. There's a lot of people hurting here," said Rob Mutert, WARP CORPS executive director. "More people needing housing, more people needing access to resources, it's not getting better."

But partner Tom Wilson said efforts like these do make a difference.

"It's not just about the meal; it's about how you make them feel, and it's about your soul," MBI CEO Tom Wilson said.