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updated: 6/1/2011 10:03 AM

West Chicago food pantry needs more room

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Clients have to wait outdoors in all kinds of weather at a West Chicago food pantry because there is no lobby.

That's one reason St. Mary's Catholic Church is aiming to add on to the small parish building that houses the pantry.

A private office for a nurse and space for a walk-in freezer also are sorely needed, said Rev. John Balluff, St. Mary's pastor. The old refrigerators the pantry uses "cost an arm and a leg to run," he said.

St. Mary's pantry is one of three sites operated by Feeding Northwest DuPage, an ecumenical consortium of 18 DuPage County churches.

The pantry at St. Mary's serves residents of West Chicago, Winfield and Warrenville four mornings a week. It's housed in a two-story office/garage located behind the church at Garden Street and East York Avenue.

The pantry serves 600 to 700 clients a month, up from about 500 to 600, said Tom Norton, executive director of Feeding Northwest DuPage.

Adding a waiting area, offices for the food pantry's intake coordinator and the nurse, and space for a walk-in freezer would cost roughly $80,000, Balluff said. The food pantry already has a grant for $25,000. "We're hopeful to find the rest of the money," Balluff said.

The pantry at St. Mary's also has two grants to pay for a nurse during the hours when food is distributed, including $30,000 from Central DuPage Hospital to be used over five years. The nurse would perform simple examinations, such as weight and blood pressure, but primarily help clients with referrals for a variety of services.

The walk-in freezer would make it possible for the pantry to distribute donated meat, frozen vegetables and items such as pizzas.

St. Mary's parish school is closed, but Balluff doesn't want to move the pantry into the school, which is currently used for religious education classes.

"In terms of space, a school building has other potential uses," Balluff said. "A food pantry is not the best use of the space."

The shuttered school could be used to house a preschool program, for example, he said. "There is a huge need out here (for more preschool spaces), and we're a part of the conversation," Balluff said.