By Kristin Boza
The Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry, located in Morgan Park United Methodist Church at 11030 S. Longwood Dr., has shifted its services to the Client Choice model, per the Greater Chicago Food Depository updated standards. The Client Choice program allows needful families and individuals to shop the pantry just like a supermarket, giving clients numerous choices that will better serve their needs.
“The Client Choice model gives clients with food insecurities the dignity and choice of food and the innovative experience of being in a grocery store,” said Karen Overstreet, director of the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry. “Our clients are a mix of people down on their luck, senior citizens trying to make it month-to-month, or people who are sick. This model gives our clients a sense of self-worth.”
It has taken the 36-year-old food pantry nearly a year to revamp and reorganize the existing space to adhere to the new layout guidelines, including providing additional floor space, storage, refrigeration and shelving units.
Each client can choose a specified number of food and personal care items based on their family size.
“Clients can now choose between varieties of hot and cold cereal, oats and grits, tomato sauces, and numerous other options,” Overstreet said. The biggest change for volunteers and organizers is ensuring that the shelves are well-stocked with a great variety of items. No longer will clients be simply given a bag of food, some of which they don’t need, want or even like.
“Our clients are absolutely loving this new layout,” Overstreet said. “It has empowered them and gives them choices so there’s less waste. We serve 60655 and 60643 zip codes, and there’s a lot of food insecurity here. Our clients are so glad to be able to choose fresh produce, butter or margarine, eggs, fresh bread, and even deciding between apples and pears and red potatoes or white. These choices make a big difference in their lives.”
Perhaps the only downside to the Client Choice model is keeping a variety of items in stock. “We are bursting at the seams, since we need to have so much more on hand than we did before in order to accommodate our clients,” Overstreet said. “We’re constantly in fundraising mode and we’re looking for different organizations, schools and churches to help us out and hold food drives for us so we can keep our shelves stocked.”
The Morgan Park Juniors have stepped up to this challenge in a new fundraising effort to support the food pantry. The group will host the movie “Big Night” on Weds., Apr. 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W, 111th St. This 1996 comedy/drama film follows two brothers who run an Italian restaurant in financial trouble, and their preparation for a feast to prove their worth to the community. Tickets are $10, and a cash bar is available. The Beverly Arts Center is donating the use of the Baffes Theatre, and all proceeds will help the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry. Tickets can be purchased on the BAC website or at the door.
“The Morgan Park Juniors used to host a community garage sale in the fall, but this year we wanted to change it up a bit,” said Virginia Siegel, Morgan Park Juniors member. “We also recognize that food necessity goes on all year long, so an April fundraiser would be welcomed as families prepare for their Easter meals.”
For those seeking to support the food pantry on a regular basis, Overstreet is hoping for 300 households to commit to donating money each month. “Our needs have changed so much that monthly contributors are welcome so we can renovate our space and continue to accommodate the community,” she said.
For those needing food assistance, simply stop by the food pantry on Tuesdays or Fridays between 1 and 3 p.m. or call 773-239-3013 for information.