As area food pantries struggle to stay open, the Rotary Club of Wheeling, the village of Wheeling and other organizations have teamed up to open one.
A new food pantry opened last week at a Wheeling Police Department substation at 101 N. Wolf Road. The pantry is a project of the Rotary Club along with several partners: OMNI Youth Services, St. Joseph the Worker Church, Wheeling High School, and Wheeling Township Elementary District 21.
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"The bottom line is that we're about helping people however we can," said Jim Bradley, community service chairman for the Rotary Club of Wheeling. Bradley has been overseeing the project for nearly two years and said he is glad to finally see the pantry come to fruition.
Bradley had been helping the Rotary Club get involved with local food pantries, like those at OMNI and St. Joseph the Worker, but many have either closed or downsized. It became apparent to the Rotary Club that it needed to open a pantry, but it also needed the village's help to do it.
Bradley has been a Rotarian for 28 years and said many of Rotary International's projects focus on helping people locally.
"I decided we needed to do something here," Bradley said. "Obviously we have people in this community that need help, too."
Bradley is thankful to the village because the one-year lease at the police substation calls for the Rotary Club to pay a $12 deposit and a rent of $1 a month for the next 12 months, allowing the group to focus on giving back rather than on paying the bills.
A rotation of 32 volunteers will keep the pantry running 20 hours per week, from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays. It will be closed on the weekends.
Visitors to the food pantry can get one package of food per person each month. Each package contains enough nonperishable food for three to five days, Bradley said.
But the new pantry, which is already filling shelves in a small storeroom, isn't just about the food. A social worker from either OMNI Youth Services or the village of Wheeling will always be on hand to talk to people about their needs, problems and what can be done to help. Translators are also available for residents who speak primarily Spanish, Polish, German or Russian.
So far the pantry has 30 bags packed and is constantly preparing more from their shelves, Bradley said. They are working on getting more ethnic food in stock for the diverse population they serve.
Food drives at local churches and schools are contributing to the pantry's stock. District 21 elementary schools will be asking students to bring canned goods to donate on the third Friday of every month.
"We are looking for this to be an outreach for the community, but we're still getting the word out," said Karen Pradun, a former president of the Wheeling Rotary Club who was volunteering at the pantry Monday.
"Right now we're the best-kept secret in town, but Lord knows there's a need out here."
Bradley said it may be a few months before the group has a handle on how much food is coming in and going out and what may be the best way to organize it.
"I've never run a pantry before, so we're shooting from the hip," he said.