Fundraiser to help West Suburban Community Pantry meet increased demand
Six months ago, the West Suburban Community Pantry was moving full steam ahead with plans to help needy DuPage County families.
It had launched its "Access 2020: Building Capacity, Breaking Down Barriers" capital campaign. Fundraising was under way to support a major renovation of its client service and warehouse space in Woodridge. And the food pantry was positioned to introduce an online ordering system in hopes of expanding its outreach.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
"We instantly go from a pretty well-oiled machine in terms of getting food to people, to rethinking our entire operation," Executive Director Laura Coyle said. "Everything we were doing prior to COVID was based on choice and a dignified experience for clients and having them come in and shop at our location. ... We immediately had to say, 'Abandon that. We just need to get food to people.'"
With safety as a top priority, the pantry transitioned to a drive-up method for providing prepacked boxes of food, she said. Work began on the facility renovations, but plans to offer choice and convenience through the online shopping system were halted.
And yet, the demand for food and resources has been higher than ever, Coyle said.
In prepandemic times, the organization typically served about 350 households each week, reaching residents in Lisle, Naperville, Bolingbrook, Darien, Downers Grove, Romeoville, Westmont, Willowbrook and Woodridge. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the pantry has been supporting closer to 500 families on a weekly basis, she said, with numbers projected to continue increasing.
Many residents have lost their jobs or been furloughed, Coyle said.
"If we can relieve the food aspect of their budget, then other things in their lives can remain stable," she said.
To meet the increased demand, the pantry has organized a virtual Chef's Culinary Celebration fundraiser Sept. 26, with hopes of bringing in the resources needed to complete the renovation project, expand its inventory services, resume offering food options and roll out the online ordering system.
Held over Zoom, the event is a spinoff the Chef's Culinary Challenge fundraiser done in person the last several years, pantry leaders said. Guests will be able to order dinner from one of six local chefs to enjoy at home while watching a virtual celebration that includes cocktail music, a silent auction and stories of families served by the pantry.
Participating businesses are: Belgio's Catering, Elements at Water Street, and SixtyFour Wine Bar & Kitchen in Naperville; Cadence Kitchen & Co. and The Foxtail in Downers Grove; Caffe di Moda in Lisle; and Girl & the Goat in Chicago.
Roughly 200 participants have registered on the event's website so far, exceeding expectations, Development Manager Lisa Spaeth said. Because the fundraiser is online, she said, anyone will be able to log on and watch the celebration, learn about the pantry and possibly make a small donation rather than purchase a ticket at the meal price.
"We see this as an opportunity to bring in some new supporters," she said.
In addition to raising funds, Coyle said, the event offers an opportunity for community members to celebrate food, not only for survival, but also for comfort, socialization and fellowship.
"It certainly has become a mantra to say, 'We're all in this together,'" she said. "When it comes to something like making sure your neighbors have enough food to eat, that's always been a value that's shared in the community."