South Side food bank known as 'hugging pantry' fights food insecurity stigma with warm embraces

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The pantry at New Life Covenant Southeast in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood is known as the "hugging pantry" for the warm welcome and embrace given to anyone that walks through the door.

"It takes the stigma away from the fact you are here to receive food," said Tracy Mclemore, a pantry participant.

Mclemore said, it "makes it feel a warm environment that it's OK you don't have what you need right now, but we're here to provide that.'

For Mclemore and her family, it's about getting the essentials and items to make meals last.

"Fruits, fresh vegetables, beans, rice, things that I can make multiple meals with and not worry about it being just the one meal. I can stretch the meals so my family can have adequate food," Mclemore said.

Pantry Coordinator Jackie Kabir connects with the participants at her pantry because she once walked in their shoes.

"I came to the food pantry as a client. That was my first experience with any food pantry," Kabir said. "You know I came in met mama Gantt. She gave me the biggest hug and told me it wasn't always going to be like this that it was a temporary situation and that really made me feel much better about that I was in this place at this point in my life."

Mama Gantt's warm embrace has become legendary in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. She says it's about showing love when people need it the most.

"I think that's important to give people that sense of identity back when they have already lost control over their lives," Kabir said. "They don't know where their next meal is coming from, they may not know when they are going to find a job, they may not know anything else but they know when they come here they can depend on us for that kind of encouragement."

On average 100-150 households are served from the pantry at New Life Covenant every Thursday.

You can help families get what they need this holiday season through ABC7's "Share the Joy" virtual food drive, a partnership with the Northern Illinois Food Bank and Greater Chicago Food Depository.

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