Little Village food pantry expands indoors, serving 30K people per week

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The festive spirit is alive and well at 27th and Lawndale in the Little Village neighborhood, and with good reason.

"60623 was the hardest hit by the pandemic for 14 months," said Matt DeMateo, executive director of New Life Centers. "Battling COVID, battling violence... so when we see a space like this, it's such a burst of hope."

Thursday marked the grand opening of New Life Centers' Pan de Vida, or Bread of Life, Food Pantry. One of the first food pantry volunteers cut the ribbon hand-in-hand with the new generation leading the mission to bring food and dignity to the community.

"Food is the hook, it's the open door, but then our secret sauce is the relationship, is the community," DeMateo said. "We have case management services, mentoring, after school education, sports peacemaking. So all those things are included in the package."

DeMateo said his food pantry team went from serving 100 families per week pre-pandemic to 6,000 families.

Now, they're feeding an estimated 30,000 people per week, including Margarita Márquez.

"I continue to benefit from the food pantry as prices have gone up and I can use my money on other essential things," Márquez said.

Organizers say at the height of the pandemic there were hundreds of food pallets stacked outside to meet the need. They just didn't have the space. But over the past 18 months, New Life Centers, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, renovated a former corner store and turned it a state-of-the-art food pantry with fresh produce, dry goods, and everything to meet the need here in La Villita.

The mission, DeMateo said, is led mainly by people 18 to 24 years old.

"Thank God that we have a building and we're giving back to the people," said 20-year-old operations manager Alex Ramon.

"Hope has a new address," said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who attended the ribbon cutting event. "I love that, and it's something frankly we need to hold on to as a city."
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