Volunteers prepare to load boxes of produce and vegetables into vehicles last Thursday in the Our Lady of the Ridge parking lot in Chicago Ridge. The volunteers for the Mobile Food Pantry represented the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago and Catholic Charities. The Rev. Wayne Svida (left), pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge Parish, greeted motorists and also assisted in loading produce and vegetables into vehicles.
By Joe Boyle
The COVID-19 pandemic continues and so does hunger.
And the need is great even in southwest suburban communities. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago, in coordination with Catholic Charities, hosted a Mobile Food Pantry event last Thursday afternoon in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Ridge Parish, 10811 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge.
Fresh fruits and vegetables were delivered to Our Lady of the Ridge (OLOR). Jack Santori, president of St. Vincent de Paul Society's OLOR Conference, knew that there were was significant amount of food insecurity and need in the community. Tom Moritz, district president for OLOR, worked to secure the free, pop-up event at the parish.
"The mobile pantry went better that I could have hoped," Santori said. "We weren't sure that we would get a turnout, though we know people are suffering from hard times in the South Side currently. We feel that not enough neighbors are aware that we run a St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry here at Our Lady of the Ridge and were just hoping that by spreading the word at church and via social media, we'd reach those that need us the most."
Jen Ahern, communications director for St. Vincent de Paul Chicago, said the event was organized quickly but with positive results.
"St. Vincent de Paul has been active at OLOR for years," said Ahern, a Worth resident who grew up in Our Lady of Ridge Parish. "I think people think about hunger before Thanksgiving but the fact is a lot of people are in need right now."
Ahern added that vehicles were lined up throughout the afternoon, some arriving 30 minutes before the food distribution was scheduled to begin, a testament to Santori's and Moritz's insight.
By 2 p.m., with an hour left of scheduled time to go, nearly all the 120 boxes had been packed into vehicles and sent on their way, Ahern said. This is the first time that St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities and OLOR have teamed up to host this type of event.
Ahern said this inaugural event was held in part by St. Vincent de Paul to bring awareness to the positive work being done in local communities to help those individuals who are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patti Metsler, who heads the food pantry at Our Lady of the Ridge that takes place on the second Saturday of each month, said she loved the selection of fresh produce the boxes offered.
"Just because a person is food insecure doesn't mean they don't deserve to have quality, nutritious items available to them," Metsler said. "We work hard each month to vary our selection because we know these items make up meals that sustain families and individuals."
One of the volunteers who took part last week was the Rev. Wayne Svida, pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge Parish, who greeted motorists and helped to load produce and vegetables in the vehicles.
Volunteers for St. Vincent de Paul last week distributed over 480 boxes of produce combined at Our Lady of the Ridge and at St. Gall Parish, located in Chicago's Gage Park community.
September is Hunger Action Month, a nationwide campaign mobilizing individuals and organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society to take action against hunger in local communities. This time of economic uncertainty brought on by a global pandemic has resulted in high unemployment. The organization wants to raise awareness and funds to help fight hunger in the southwest suburbs and Chicago.
"Food insecurity increases sharply for many as the weather cools and we enter into winter here," Ahern said. "Many of our local food pantries missed out on springtime food drives that usually take place in coordination with the Easter season. Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, we are now looking to replenish shelves in order to prepare for the anticipated higher demand."
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago is based in Blue Island. Residents and local organizations can contact them at their website at www.stvincentdepaulchicago.org to learn more and donate online.
The organization also has a thrift store at 7010 W. 159th St. in Orland Park. The store staff accepts gently-used clothing and household items. The proceeds are used to support St. Vincent de Paul's giving programs.