Church launches community pop-up pantry

Third Unitarian Church partners with local institutions on pantry they plan to hold each Saturday this summer

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Mateusz Janik

About a month ago, members from Third Unitarian Church were thinking of ways to help other West Side residents during the COVID-19 pandemic and then they knew what they could do: starting a community pantry.

"There's a lot of desire to work on things right now," said Carley Mostar, the church's pantry coordinator. "We're just trying to work with some of the people who are already doing it and just following their lead."

Within just a few weeks, Third Unitarian talked over the idea of a community pop-up pantry within the church, including the Mayfield Community Garden team, People of Color Caucus and Social Action committee.

Along with help from Praise Temple of Restoration, which distributed flyers and provided volunteers, and Thankful for Chicago, a nonprofit that provided supplies and guidance from their own experience with pop-up pantries, they were able to do a trial run on June 27.

"It was just a couple of conversations and then some quick fundraising," Mostar said. "That was a trial run, and we were hoping to go through at least August every Saturday."

During the trial run, Third Unitarian gave away food, household items, masks and hand sanitizers to about 40 residents.

On Saturday, Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield Ave., will officially launch the outdoor pop-up from 10 a.m to 12 p.m., with the goal of being in operation every Saturday this summer.

"Everybody who came to set up is gonna tell their neighbor and tell other people," Mostar said. "We've kind of assumed that's how word would spread and how people will hear about us, so we're anticipating more people in the weeks to come."

The pantry will distribute non-perishables, such as canned goods and possibly fresh produce. There will also be household items available, including cleaning supplies, toilet paper, diapers, hand sanitizer and face masks.

Mostar said there are no limits on how much residents take, and there are designated stations for residents to stay at a social distance while volunteers bag their items.

"I believe that the church should be serving the community and helping the community to the best of our ability, because the church is really a spiritual hospital," said Minister Larry Lawrence, senior pastor at Praise Temple of Restoration.

Made up of about 120 members from across the Chicago area, Praise Temple of Restoration has been using space at Third Unitarian Church since before the COVID-19 closures.

Lawrence said when he heard about the pop-up pantry, he realized it would be a good way to get members from Praise Temple of Restoration involved.

"We brought supplies from our ministry as well as volunteers to help pass out flyers in the area and neighborhood," Lawrence said. "It's good for the community to see the church concerned about them and their needs."

Austin Coming Together will continue distributing food on Thursday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at By The Hand Club for Kids, 415 N. Laramie Ave.

Working alongside the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Austin Coming Together will be offering food boxes of meat, grains and fresh produce on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.

"Austin has needed more support since even before the pandemic. That's why we're currently in discussions with the city and Greater Chicago Food Depository on how to continue addressing the increased need for food access," said Darnell Shields, executive director of Austin Coming Together.

"Whether through more pop-up pantries or by helping to strengthen the capacity and reach of existing Austin food pantries, ACT will continue doing our best to bring resources to our community."

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