By Kristin Boza
Many people have organized to help others in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Soon after the city began its shelter-in-place orders, the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry, 11030 S. Longwood Dr., noted that the demand for food assistance in our neighborhood rose dramatically.
One neighbor, Colleen Loehr, heard the pleas and took the initiative to organize the neighborhood via her connections in numerous Facebook groups. Every week, Loehr collects donations of food, County Fair Billy Bucks, money, and more which she then hand-delivers to the Pantry. She got the idea when she cleaned out her cupboards at the beginning of quarantine and realized the amount of extra food she had on hand.
“It started by texting my neighbors to see if anyone had anything to add to what I found at home; I had about half a car load and $50 to donate. I arrived at the pantry at 1 p.m. when they opened and the cars were lined up out of the parking lot. I got in line and let them know I had donations; I noticed the volunteers immediately distributing my bags before I even set the second set down. It hit me really hard. That was March 27. I went home and started posting everywhere. Their staff of volunteers are a well-oiled machine, but due to Covid there are fewer volunteers working more hours,” Loehr said.
Loehr has become a well-oiled machine herself.
“Every Tuesday and Friday, I post on local Facebook pages asking for any donations. People will message me, text me, call me, or even show up on my porch with food. I also bring in cash or check donations,” Loehr said. “Someone just texted me at 8:30 p.m. to see if they can come by and drop off a trunk load after doing their own shopping. I just love this neighborhood!”
It takes about an hour and a half for Loehr to complete her round-trip to homes in Beverly/Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood, Merrionette Park and Evergreen Park. She found that alerting the community about specific needs and asking them to leave donations on their porches helped to streamline her pick-ups. She has become a great asset for those who want to regularly contribute but may not have the time to run a car load of donations over on their own each week.
As of Aug. 14, Loehr has made 38 trips, two per week, to the Maple Morgan Park Food Pantry, with help one week from her friend Sheila Maroney who stepped in while she was out of town. Loehr estimates that about $9,000 worth of food and monetary donations have been delivered since she started.
“My 11-year-old son, Will, is my navigator. We plot the addresses by area and head out! We are getting really good at knowing all the streets from Vincennes to Pulaski,” she said. “We average about 20 porch pick-ups each time and completely fill my large SUV. A couple of times, I’ve had to make a few trips in a day or Will has to hold food on his lap. Those are our favorite days!”
County Fair’s Billy Bucks expire two times per year; Loehr realized the July 31 expiration date was looming and decided to capitalize on the random Billy Bucks people had in their wallets. “I ended up collecting more than $800 worth of Billy Bucks! I went to County Fair to explain I was going to go shopping and didn’t want to clear out their shelves of anything, so they did some pre-orders of sauce, cleaning products, pasta, cereal, and other non-perishables,” Loehr said. “They gave me a great deal and I was able to easily pick them up boxed and deliver to the Pantry. County Fair has been super gracious and accommodating, even for some of my last-minute asks.”
Loehr is grateful for the support from local groups and “frequent flyers” who donate each week, specifically: her out-of-state friends and family who send money; Lauren Skerrett and her group, Nice Chicks with Sewing Machines, who donated masks and Billy Bucks; a St. Cajetan School mom who organized her neighbors and had an entire porch full of donations; Dena O’Reilly and the Morgan Park Junior Women’s Club; and the garden at Sutherland School, which donates fresh produce, to name a few.
To help, reach out to Collen Loehr via text at 773-316-0828 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.