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Lincoln Square Friendship Center Takes on Hunger in 'Hood's Backyard

By Patty Wetli | June 11, 2013 12:56pm
 With volunteer cleanup sessions, food pantry is one coat of paint closer to opening in Lincoln Square.
Lincoln Square Friendship Center
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LINCOLN SQUARE — The newest food pantry in Lincoln Square is situated just yards away from the neighborhood's toniest restaurant, Goosefoot.

The location of the Lincoln Square Friendship Center underlies the need that exists in a community that is generally regarded as better off.

"People think of Lincoln Square as affluent, and it is, but if you go one block in either direction, people are struggling," said Heidi Bush, who is spearheading the formation of the pantry along with Meghan Gutierrez. "Hunger isn't necessarily across the ocean — it's right here in our backyard."

The idea for the pantry, set to open later this summer at 2733 W. Lawrence Ave., originated with a group of clergy members brought together by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) shortly after he took office in 2011.

"One of the things that popped up were food pantries," said Bush, who has ties to Lincoln Square Presbyterian Church.

Nearby Common Pantry in North Center and Ravenswood Community Services food pantry have experienced greater demand for their resources in recent years, according to Bush, suggesting the need exists for an additional outlet.

Since securing the storefront on Lawrence Avenue, Bush and Gutierrez have hosted a pair of volunteer cleanup events to prepare the space for its grand opening.

"My interest in this project, I guess, is helping my neighbor," said Eileen Palmer as she wielded a paint roller during Monday night's cleaning session. "I'm excited they [the center] fill the void."

The former home of Aden Seafood and Meat Market, the space came with built-in shelving and a walk-in cooler, which has helped cut down on expenses.

The pantry is funded largely by donations and a grant from the North Park Friendship Center, which has taken the Lincoln Square outpost under its wing and its 501(c)(3) nonprofit umbrella.

"We have essentially become a second location for them," Bush said.

Gutierrez, who has a degree in exercise science, and Bush, who majored in theater, have both committed to full-time volunteer status with the pantry for at least its first full year of operation.

"This really came out of nowhere," said Bush. "It's been a lot of trial and error. We've had a lot of support."

Once they have the pantry up and running, Bush and Gutierrez are aiming to have it open for business one day a week, most likely Thursdays, a departure from most other pantries' once-a-month schedules.

Bush explained that clients would only be able to avail themselves of the pantry's food monthly but she wanted to offer people greater flexibility.

"Really, the pantry is a stop gap. We're going to start with food, but that's just a Band-aid," she said. The center may eventually add social services such as resume preparation and English as a Second Language classes.

Tentative service boundaries are Montrose Avenue to Peterson Avenue, and California Avenue to Ravenswood Avenue.

"These people are our neighbors. We're trying to create a sense of community, we're trying to eliminate that feeling of alienation," stressed Bush. "Nobody wakes up and says, 'I really want to poor today, I really want to go to a food pantry.'"