Elmhurst food pantry celebrates $100,000 donation

Volunteers at the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry usually spend their time acquiring, sorting and distributing food for people in need.

But a few days ago, they were the ones on the receiving end of an act of charity.

Roughly 100 of the volunteers were invited to Grand Subaru of Bensenville to share a meal in recognition of the work they do and to collect a donation in the form of an oversized check.

None of them knew as they crowded into the showroom on Grand Avenue was that the check was for $100,000.

"They (Grand Subaru) wanted it to be a surprise and, trust me, it was," said Katherine Watts, a member of the pantry's executive board. "First you saw the shock on their faces, and then people just rose to their feet."

But the surprise wasn't over. Ryan Drouin, Grand Subaru's general manager, told the volunteers his dealership had conducted its own food drive. One of the bay doors opened and a slightly used Honda Odyssey van backed in, filled with donated food.

"Everyone was so excited," Watts said.

Then Drouin surprised them again by handing over the keys.

By that point, Watts says, everybody was crying.

"You just heard screaming; people were just losing their minds," she said. "It was surreal."

Milk, eggs and more

Watts says the donation will help the pantry - which last year served 867 families from Elmhurst, Bensenville, Addison, Lombard, Villa Park, Hillside, Berkeley and Oak Brook - significantly increase supplies of its most requested items: Milk and eggs.

It's a challenge for pantries to provide those items, she said, because of how quickly they spoil.

"We could really only afford to do it for families with children," Watts said. "We were pretty lean and mean."

With the donation, she says, the pantry now can get milk and eggs delivered twice a week. The money also will help the pantry acquire essential supplies, such as toilet paper, soap and shampoo.

"It's important to put food on the table, but if you're looking for a new job you have to be able to present yourself and just have confidence in yourself when you go in to that interview," Watts said.

Power and light

The Grand Subaru donation also provides volunteers with peace of mind that they'll be able to keep the lights on at their new facility.

The building, located behind Yorkfield Presbyterian Church, 1083 S. York Road, opened early last year. It isn't much bigger than a small house, but volunteers say it feels like a mansion compared to their previous digs.

The pantry began in a closet at the church in 1983 before moving to the basement of a now-demolished house that the church owned.

Memories of that cramped space is enough to make longtime volunteers shudder.

"God bless all of our volunteers who stayed with us after working in that place," said Tammy Pesenti, a volunteer for seven years and the group's social media maven.

Watts said clients used to wait for food either lined up outside near York Road or on one of three folding chairs on the sloped concrete floor of the basement next to the sump pump.

The new facility is an improvement in every way. There's more space to display and store food and supplies, more freezers and refrigerators, and even a waiting area with a restroom and 27 chairs. But all that takes money and Watts says the donation provides an important safety net.

New wheels, hope

Right after the facility opened last year, Watts got news that the pantry's road-weary 1998 Ford Windstar had basically rusted away. Volunteers were without means to pick up donated food from grocery stores and businesses. The new van will allow them to haul more food in fewer trips and greatly reduces the chances of a breakdown.

"Now we don't have to worry about getting the phone call of someone saying, 'we're stranded!'" Watts said

A partnership

Grand Subaru sought out the food pantry as part of the company's nationwide Subaru Love Promise campaign.

But Watts said Grand Subaru's commitment to the pantry goes beyond its donation.

"I really believe we've built a partnership," she said. "We really feel we've built a friendship with a major business."

She said Drouin and other Grand Subaru employees have volunteered their time to unload food and help clients fill their baskets.

"They totally embraced the entire process," Watts said. "They got in here to really see what goes on firsthand."

Pantry clients can come once a calendar month. The facility is open from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays, from 1 to 4 p.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.


  Katherine Watts, an executive board member and volunteer at the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry, says a $100,000 donation from Grand Subaru of Bensenville provides a huge boost for the facility that last year served 867 families in need. Mark Black/
  Larry Studer, a board member and volunteer at the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry, brings in a load of new supplies. The pantry operates out of a new facility behind Yorkfield Presbyterian Church at 1083 S. York Road. Mark Black/
  The Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry serves families in need from Elmhurst, Bensenville, Addison, Villa Park, Hillside, Berkeley and Oak Brook. Mark Black/
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