People's Resource Center reopens food pantry after monthlong 'refresh'
The new-look food pantry left an impression on Danny Lanka even before he began filling his grocery cart with red apples and zucchini.
The People's Resource Center reopened its pantry at the nonprofit's Wheaton headquarters Monday after a nearly monthlong, $25,000 renovation. Lanka was the pantry's second customer during the afternoon shift.
"I noticed it right away," the Carol Stream man said. "As soon I walked in, the food looked nicer on the racks, and it was much neater."
Lanka moved his cart between the pallets and shelves on an "S"-shaped path, stopping first in the produce section to pick up avocados and sweet potatoes. Along the way, volunteers didn't hand out groceries, but asked if he was interested in a pint of chocolate ice cream or taco dip.
"Compared to the last time I was here, this was much smoother," Lanka said. "People aren't bumping into you from behind."
That's not to say the pantry wasn't busy. Volunteers served clients from 70 households during the first morning shift after the hiatus. By the end of the afternoon, the pantry expected to provide groceries and fresh produce to 120 to 130 families in need.
The People's Resource Center typically provides food for about 3,000 DuPage County families a month between its Wheaton and Westmont locations.
"We are thrilled to welcome our neighbors to a brighter, more spacious food pantry with more choices for clients," Executive Director Jeni Fabian said. "Our dedicated volunteers brought such amazing energy to the planning, and we're excited to open the doors."
Before the reopening, the center held four training sessions for volunteers to orient them to a new layout and a more efficient distribution system. Carts are now color-coded to reflect family size. Clients from, say, a household of three would look for a blue label that lets them know how many items they can put into their carts from each section of the pantry.
"It moves so much faster because we've eliminated a lot of the bottlenecks we've had in the past," said Ben Etri, a Naperville man who has been volunteering in the pantry for seven years.
Volunteers and clients say the pantry feels more inviting with new LED lights, flooring and paint. New fans and corner guards also were added to the space.
"It was a dramatic difference," said Christina LePage, senior director of programs. "It was again some planned maintenance. It was really time to take a look at our floor and some other repairs, and we decided to just do it all at the same time. So it's brighter. We put new lighting in. The color in here is new. It's more warm and inviting and welcoming. It's a refresh."
Over about eight months, a team of longtime volunteers served on a design committee to give their input on the layout and improvements.
"So that was years of experience that the volunteers brought to this project to really say what works and what doesn't work and how do we make that shopping experience better for our clients and make this just a better environment for our volunteers, too, so that they feel they have the space to do their job, be more efficient and also feel they can interact with the clients better," LePage said.
The pantry also is offering more healthy and gluten-free choices for clients. The Northern Illinois Food Bank is the biggest source of groceries for the pantry, which also relies on food drives. The pantry regularly seeks donations of diapers, condiments and canned fruit and needs volunteers for Saturday and morning shifts, said Barry Kerstein, the pantry's supervisor.
Lanka was grateful for the assistance as he recovers from a serious bicycling accident that's left him unable to work. He said he recently moved into subsidized housing.
"I don't have anything bad to say about the old way," he said. "It was what it was. But I think what they did, somebody took a little extra time and said, 'Yeah we can make this better.'"