After almost a full year of operating out of mobile pantries, leaving volunteers and clients vulnerable to the elements, Feeding Greater Elgin finally has a home.
The Elgin nonprofit got its first influx of food from the Northern Illinois Food Bank Wednesday and plans to ease into regular distribution over the next couple weeks before a grand opening Dec. 3.
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Executive Director Susan Ericson said it has been quite a journey since the organization formed in January. Unloading food into the warehouse space and lining up the aisles was an emotional experience for those who have been working on the project since the beginning.
"It's really going to happen," Ericson said. "We're going to help people."
The nonprofit formed to combat hunger in the Elgin and South Elgin area, where more than 11,000 people live in poverty, Ericson said.
The new space, at 1553 Commerce Drive in Elgin, is a roomy 9,400 square feet. Almost half of that is office space -- some rooms will be used to register new clients, others will be open for community agencies to conduct outreach or provide other services. The rear wall of the warehouse is lined with refrigerators that one day will make way for walk-in appliances. Several aisles separate various food and nonfood items, like diapers.
The food acquisition and distribution agency will offer a client-choice model that allows people to shop for their own food instead of merely accepting prepackaged bags.
"It gives the clients ownership," Ericson said. "It gives them a little dignity to make their own choices and offers encouragement when they're having their time of hardship."
At first, volunteers will keep the pantry open just 10 hours a week at a range of times during the day, evening and weekend, but Ericson already speaks of being open longer or every day. And the location, she said, is a great start but Feeding Greater Elgin might even outgrow it some day.
The initial goal is to feed 250 people per week with a staff of about 15 volunteers per distribution session. Clients coming in for food will need to bring a photo ID and proof of residency in either Elgin or South Elgin.
New volunteers, of course, always are welcome, as are monetary donations. Call (847) 931-9330 for details or visit feedinggreaterelgin.org.