On a recent Thursday, volunteers from What About Us Charitable Enterprises spent the morning filling dozens of grocery bags with fresh food and staples that soon filled the arms of West Side residents in need.
Dorin “Pastor Mac” McIntyre, executive director and co-founder of What About Us Charitable Enterprises and pastor of Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, is one of many helping Austin residents struggling with food insecurity.
For the past six years, What About Us Charitable Enterprises has operated its food pantry at the church, located at 5642 W. North Ave., every second and fourth Thursday of the month, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
McIntyre said they usually give out 70 bags of groceries per distribution, serving bout 200 families each month.
“Connecting people to resources is more than just coming to get a bag of food. I build a relationship, I get to know the people that are coming, and get them to have a smile on their face,” McIntyre said. “Then we connect them to our other holistic approaches, which are the other areas of what we do.”
In addition to their walk-in food pantry, What About Us Charitable Enterprises provides food delivery twice a month to more than 50 senior citizens and homebound residents in Austin, through a partnership with Beyond Hunger.
The group also hosts community engagement events, annual backpack and winter coat drives, and an after-school program, Rites of Passage, where students ages 12 to 17 can develop their social and emotional skills.
Chris Thomas, who volunteers at the walk-in pantry and helps with the food deliveries, said he always remembers the smiles clients give him when he delivers groceries to them.
“When someone shows up to their door, they’re just happy to see someone,” said Thomas, founder and executive director of YourPassion1st, a non-profit that provides youth coaching and mentorship programs.
“They may not have family that comes to them regularly, so to be able to show up with a gift – even though basic food should not be a gift, it should be a given – that’s what I get out of it, just seeing people happy.”
A lot of people need help.
According to the Chicago Health Atlas, 26.5% of Austin residents experience food insecurity at some point. That means about 25,640 residents – out of 96,753 residents counted in the 2020 Census – experience food insecurity.
Bethel’s Daily Bread and Wellness Office is another Austin provider helping the hungry. Located at Bethel New Life Church at 1150 N. Lamon Ave., they offer a walk-in pantry Tuesday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and by appointment on Mondays and Fridays.
They provide other services, including a workforce development program and help with applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid.
Marcia Kay, a community health worker at Bethel’s Daily Bread and Wellness Office, said making food accessible is an important way to spark conversation about the needs between family members and the larger community.
“I’m gonna try my hardest to make sure you and your kids eat, so you can sit down at the table and have a conversation. You find out what your kids need, and they talk to you about what you may need,” Kay said. “All of these conversations are happening around food, so why not make the food accessible?”
Last month, one of Kay’s clients got their “Christmas miracle” through a partnership with Rush University Medical Center’s Adopt-a-Family Program.
“Her baby got this massive dollhouse … she didn’t know how she was going to be able to afford anything for them for Christmas. And this just came right on time,” Kay said.
Circle Urban Ministries, located at 118 N. Central Ave., offers a food pantry where clients pick their own groceries on Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on Thursdays. They also provide services including drug rehabilitation programs, employment assistance, resume workshops and homelessness assistance.
Outreach coordinator Darriel Anderson, who manages the food pantry, sees food insecurity as a problem that needs to be addressed at its core.
“At Circle Urban Ministries, we can provide resources and assist our clients to meet the root problem, not just put a Band-Aid or a patch on,” Anderson said.
One of Anderson’s clients, a single mother with multiple children, needed food, baby formula, pampers and household items – necessities they didn’t have because they had moved around often and did not have a permanent residence. Anderson said she felt empathy for her client because she herself has experienced a similar situation in the past.
“It’s OK to need a helping hand to push past your fears, push past the shame, push past the embarrassment and self doubt … once you get over those fears and you reach out, the help is out there,” Anderson said.
Juwana Pratcher, a volunteer at Circle Urban Ministries’ food pantry, has been volunteering at the pantry since 2017. She said she always wanted to give back to Austin, where she was born and raised.
A typical day of volunteering for Pratcher involves setting up computers for signing in clients or helping in the pantry. She puts produce on tables for the clients to pick out and organizes the shelves where food is kept. And she walks with clients through the pantry, helping them select their groceries.
She said volunteering reminds her of her own struggles she’s had to overcome.
“At any given moment, it could be me. I have also received some of these services before, like getting food from a food pantry,” Pratcher said. “It just keeps me humble at all times because nobody’s perfect in life. Everyone has a story.”
Here are local food pantries that serve Austin residents:
- Bethel’s Daily Bread and Wellness Office pantry, 1150 N. Lamon Ave., is open Tuesday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Monday and Friday by appointment. For more information, call (773) 887-3630.
- Beyond Hunger food pantry offers a drive-thru pantry in Oak Park at 924 Lake St. and walk-up at 848 Lake St. and is open every Wednesday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. More information can be found here.
- Circle Urban Ministries, 118 N. Central Ave., distributes food every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on Thursday. For more information, call (773) 921-1446.
- Grace and Peace Church food pantry located, 1856 N. Leclaire Ave., is open every Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursday from 2 to 6 p.m.. For more information, call (773) 619-3160.
- Hope Community Church food pantry, 5900 W. Iowa St., is open every Friday from noon to 2 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, call (773) 921-2243.
- What About Us Charitable Enterprises, 5642 W. North Ave., distributes food on the second and fourth Thursday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call (630) 403-8403.