West Suburban Community Pantry reopens with increased capacity, Amazon Fresh partnership
Years of planning, fundraising, navigating construction and revamping operations culminated Wednesday in the grand reopening of the West Suburban Community Pantry.
It's been a challenging 15 months for the Woodridge-based nonprofit, which was forced to suddenly shift gears amid a global pandemic while still pushing forward its expansion goals to address a growing need, Executive Director Laura Coyle said. But watching guests' faces light up as they step into the renovated facility -- and hearing the excitement over the pantry's new partnership with Amazon Fresh -- makes it all worthwhile.
"It just been so genuinely amazing," Coyle said. "It's sort of a turning-point moment for us and for the community and for the people we serve."
The pantry's "huge milestone" was celebrated Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by tours of the remodeled client service and warehouse space, marking the relaunch of on-site shopping and other in-person services, she said.
The shelves were stocked with fresh produce and grocery items from Amazon Fresh, which opened its first Chicago-area store in Naperville this past December, as part of its ongoing push to support local food banks and other philanthropic initiatives.
"We're so excited to be able to get involved with the community now," said Stephanie Feraldo, assistant store manager. "Customer obsession is one of our leadership principles, and this is just one example of that."
The partnership has been a "great marriage of organizations" as the pantry wrapped up its "Access 2020: Building Capacity, Breaking Down Barriers" initiative, Coyle said.
The facility renovations, made possible through the $600,000 fundraising campaign, include increased warehouse capacity, private intake offices and a conference room that can be used as a learning center. A staging area also was created for fulfilling online orders as part of a new distribution and pickup service that allows community members to access food "privately and with dignity," she said.
Pride, time and transportation are among the hurdles preventing about two-thirds of people in need from seeking food pantry services, Coyle said.
"We have revamped our model and remodeled our store to make sure we can overcome those barriers and increase access for people throughout the community," she said.
Among the elected officials in attendance was state Rep. Dagmara Avelar, a Bolingbrook Democrat, who said she and her family used community pantry services after immigrating to the U.S. from Ecuador about 20 years ago. She urged the crowd of community members, local leaders and volunteers to spread awareness about the services available to residents throughout DuPage and Will counties.
"We're talking about increasing accessibility and pretty much defeating the stigma that comes with seeking help," she said. "It's OK to be connected to our community because it honestly does take a village for us to be successful."
The West Suburban Community Pantry serves hundreds of families each week in and around Naperville, Woodridge, Lisle, Westmont, Willowbrook, Bolingbrook and Romeoville. Nonprofit leaders hope to continue expanding their efforts and double the number of people served over the next decade.
"Sadly, the need for these services has actually grown over the last few years ... but one of the great things about this area, really, is the safety net that seems to have naturally developed," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said. "It's pretty awesome that we have partners like (the pantry) and Amazon Fresh to help fill those needs."