By Dermot Connolly
Our Lady of the Holy Family Parish, located at the site of the former Notre Dame de Chicago, now runs a food pantry at 1334 W. Flournoy St.
Open since July from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. each Friday, the pantry formerly operated in Holy Family Church at 1101 W. Roosevelt Rd. In 2019, Holy Family merged with Notre Dame de Chicago to become Our Lady of the Holy Family as part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church initiative.
Deacon Larry Sorce, whose duties include overseeing the pantry, said church leaders had closed the pantry for about nine months because its basement location at Holy Family flooded, ruining the refrigerator and other equipment.
“Thankfully, we found a room at Notre Dame de Chicago that had been used for storage that we could use,” Sorce said.
After the church rehabbed the space, the site had to pass inspection by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the pantry’s main supplier.
“That process was interrupted because of COVID-19, because they were not doing inspections,” Source said. “We were chomping at the bit. Our first day was the first Friday in July. We’re serving about 50 families each month, with more coming as people find out about the new location, mainly by word of mouth.
“The numbers will likely increase as the holidays approach,” Sorce added. “If we can supply even two meals a week for families, that is more money that they can spend for presents.
“There is a registration form we ask folks to fill out, because the Greater Chicago Food Depository likes to keep track of how many people they are serving,” he noted. “But proof of financial need is not required. There is a certain amount of trust involved.”
Sorce explained the church expanded the food pantry service boundaries since its location changed; they now stretch from 16th Street to Lake Street and Canal Street to Western Avenue.
“We looked at where the senior housing and low-income housing sites were located when setting the boundaries,” he said.
Helping with the food pantry has brought parishioners from both churches together during the merger, easing the pain for many, according to Sorce. The archdiocese installed Rev. Peter McQuinn as pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Family on Sept. 17 (also delayed because of the pandemic), and the parish now holds regularly scheduled daily and weekend Masses at Notre Dame. Holy Family remains is open for weddings, baptisms, and other events.
Food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository “is donated, but there are costs for delivery and overhead,” Sorce said, noting three ways people can help.
First, volunteers can staff the pantry from 1:15 to 3:45 p.m. Fridays to register guests and help them find the food they want. Second, they can come to the church from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month to help unload deliveries from the depository. Third, people can volunteer at the Greater Chicago Food Depository itself; if they say which parish they are with, that parish’s food pantry gets monetary credit to put toward more food.
Participating in the food depository’s 5K run each March offers another way to get involved while raising money for the pantry.
Working alongside Sorce at the pantry every week is Daniel Kopanke, known as “Chef Dan,” because he earned a culinary degree at Kendall College after retiring from a 40-year career as a nurse. Although the pantry does not require his cooking skills, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his wife, Kathy, prepared 180 hot meals twice a month for residents of the Franciscan Outreach shelter at 2715 W. Harrison St. They also supplied hot meals to people living in the tent cities under the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Kopanke said that, while the area has a few food pantries, the one at Notre Dame de Chicago is the only one open on Fridays.
“The GCFS asked us if we could do that,” Kopanke noted. “It is helpful because many people run out of money toward the end of the week. We also allow people to come every week,” he added, noting many pantries limit access to once or twice a month.
“We want to work with the pop-up food pantry at the University of Illinois Chicago,” he said, suggesting some sort of partnership in the future to address the need. “There is a significant issue with food insecurity with students there. Between tuition and only working part-time, their finances aren’t the greatest,” he said, noting a graduate student studying physics at UIC is among the weekly visitors to the parish food pantry.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the food pantry may contact Sorce at email@example.com. For more on Our Lady of the Holy Family, log on to www.olhfchi.org or call (312) 243-7400.