Pantry's mini market brings grocery convenience to Wheaton seniors
The old "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" game show strategy of "phone a friend" used to apply to Wheaton resident Michelle Terry whenever she needed to visit the food pantry for groceries.
But a pilot program to set up mini grocery markets in retirement communities, such as Terry's home at Marian Park Apartments, has simplified the process.
"I appreciate they're coming out here now because I'm blind in one eye and I don't drive," said Terry, 68. "I used to have my friend come and drive me, but now I don't have to because they come to our home."
A small group of staffers and volunteers from Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville set up the market in Marian Park's community room for the second time Tuesday, giving seniors such as Terry free access to fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy and a few household products -- along with the power of choice.
Marian Park resident Emanuel Belluomini, who describes himself as a "meat-eater," said he enjoyed picking out cuts of beef along with staples like milk, eggs, canned pears and tissues. He's been a client of Loaves & Fishes for about five years, but said the new market offers added convenience and helps him save on gas and groceries at once.
"Most of us on social security do not get extra money, and this really stretches our budget quite a bit," said Belluomini, 76.
Loaves & Fishes has seen an increase in clients who are senior citizens, and Jane Macdonald, director of community health, predicts the trend will continue.
For about 10 years, the pantry has been taking orders from seniors in need at five Naperville retirement centers, then having individual volunteers walk its main market at 1871 High Grove Lane to fill the orders so they can be delivered. But food operations manager Alan Loeb said setting up a small grocery area in a community room removes some inefficiencies that make the individual delivery a time-consuming option.
"We bring all the boxes, set it up in 10 minutes and they can come pick what they want," Loeb said.
Tuesday at Marian Park, 40 seniors walked up and down an aisle, filling wheeled carts, reusable grocery bags or cardboard boxes with necessities to take back to their rooms.
Lined up well before the market's 1 p.m. start time, all of the seniors finished their shopping in roughly 45 minutes.
"This is the healthy corner," volunteer Jed Mundell told shoppers as they approached the spread of apples and oranges, mushrooms and potatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
If the pilot program continues to go well, Macdonald said Loaves & Fishes could expand it to other senior communities in the future.