'We cannot fail': Glen Ellyn Food Pantry hosts fundraisers for new home

Paula Nugent's tenacity is relentless.

That's become apparent in her role leading the board of the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry through a surge in demand driven by the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's also clear Nugent remains resolute in her mission moving the pantry into a new era through a fundraising campaign that went public just as the pandemic struck.

Nugent is working through all the upheavals in an effort to relocate the pantry to new headquarters after running out of space in a downtown church, its only home for more than 40 years.

"We cannot fail here," she recently told Glen Ellyn Rotary Club members. "We have 36,000 people that are depending on us."

The Rotary Club is supporting the project with a $25,000 donation to allow the pantry to open a community room at the new site and expand its reach.

"You are going to help us make this house a home," Nugent said.

The board president has been delivering presentations to community groups in the midst of a capital campaign seeking $900,000 to renovate and move the pantry into the former parsonage next to Faith Lutheran Church on Park Boulevard.

The project will position the pantry closer to the Roosevelt Road corridor and Pace bus routes, enable the nonprofit group to meet increased demand, and potentially offer more evening hours to better serve working families.

"More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to control our future and to develop programs and services that our needed to fight food insecurity in our community," Nugent said. "This endeavor must be funded."

The pantry is more than half way to its goal, with $620,000 donated or pledged so far and socially-distant fundraising events planned in the coming weeks.

Members of the pantry's board have committed $260,000 of their personal funds to make the move a reality, Nugent said.

The pantry launched fundraising behind the scenes a year ago. In early March, the pantry had raised half the capital when leaders announced the campaign publicly.

"Then the following week, the pandemic closed down the country, so we have had to entirely change how we fundraise," Nugent said.

Jazz musician Alfonso Ponticelli is playing a drive-in fundraising concert in the parking lot of Faith Lutheran the evening of Oct. 9. Tickets for "Cars Under the Stars" are available online with a suggested donation of at least $50 per car.

The pantry has long outgrown space it leases in Grace Lutheran Church. And during the COVID-19 crisis, the pantry is picking up anywhere from two to three new clients every day.

In a year, part-time staff and volunteers distribute more than 750,000 pounds of food to about 36,000 people from 11 communities in DuPage County. The pantry predominantly serves the working poor, families that struggle to pay higher living costs, senior citizens on a fixed income who would otherwise have to skip food to pay for medicine or utilities and people with temporary or permanent disabilities.

With the new headquarters, the pantry could potentially double the capacity to serve clients through a dedicated shopping area instead of a shared space, Nugent said. The community room sponsored by the rotary could hold classes, blood pressure checks for cardiac patients and other programs.

"We're honored, truly honored, to be a part of the expansion of the food pantry," club President Erika Krehbiel said. "There is clearly a significant need that continues to grow."

Faith Lutheran Church has gifted the former parsonage and plans to lease the land to the pantry for $55 a year, a nod to the new address, 55 N. Park Boulevard.

"We are talking about more than changing a building," Nugent said. "We are talking about changing the lives of the people who walk through our doors."

Jazz musician Alfonso Ponticelli will perform a concert fundraiser in October benefiting the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry board's capital campaign. Courtesy of Andrew Martin
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