By Theresa Carson
Chef Lamar Moore, who won the Food Network’s “Vegas Chef Prizefight,” was looking for something to help his community. He donated and personally delivered 500 lunch boxes for St. Elizabeth Food Pantry recipients and volunteers.
Chicago may be the current epicenter of American gun violence and today’s object of partisan politics, but it also is the home of consistent acts of kindness.
Every fourth Saturday of the month, an array of people gathers at St. Elizabeth, the oldest predominantly African-American parish in the city. Catholics, Freemasons, employees of AT&T, members of Moms Demand Action, and Chicago police officers from the CPD Second District are regulars.
They assist the St. Elizabeth Food Pantry. With the exception of March, the food pantry has delivered fresh produce, meat and foodstuff every month for the past 12 years. Established by Divine Word Father Rick Andrus, the resource continues under the leadership of Divine Word Father Bob Kelly and Food Pantry Director Ladell Johnson.
“When they closed [St. Elizabeth] school in 2015, I was determined to keep that food pantry open,” Ms. Johnson said. “Some recipients at the food pantry are embarrassed but serving people—that what it’s here for. We try to make them feel comfortable.”
Ms. Johnson emphasized that relationships keep the food pantry open. For many years, the parish has partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Every month, police officers from the CPD Second District help set up and distribute food.
Neighbors have commented on the presence of the CPD volunteers, Ms. Johnson said.
“The whole CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy] office is there,” she said. “Their presence helps to further build relationships with the community.”
Three years ago, Mariano’s grocery store also began providing food and volunteers. The connection was made when the CPD Second District chose St. Elizabeth as the recipient of groceries from Stuff of Squad, a joint Mariano’s-CPD program that channels shoppers’ donations into foodstuff for food pantries.
“The partnership with Mariano’s might have never come about if not for the Second District,” she said.
All of it is needed in these difficult times. COVID-19 interrupted service, but Ms. Johnson reinstated food delivery with safety precautions in April. The St. Elizabeth Food Pantry provides masks, shields and gloves and practices social distancing.
“By April, I was determined,” Ms. Johnson said. “I’ve seen an increase [since the pandemic]—new faces. Lot of seniors take part in it. I definitely incorporate social distance. These people need the food.”
For safety sake, the Great Food Depository now delivers the food prepackaged, including vegetables and meats. Depending upon the weather, they typically serve 150-200 people. In May, they registered 218 recipients.
The need for the food pantry increased in June after looters damaged the areas few groceries stores. The Bronzeville neighborhood, where St. Elizabeth is located, is considered a food desert, where grocery stores are scarce.
“They tore up all the stores,” said Ms. Johnson, who has been a St. Elizabeth parishioner since 1993. However, riots and epidemics will not deter her. Her role models guide her.
“My mother taught at St. Ambrose. Father [George] Clements quickly became a part of our family,” she said. “He was my hero—he and my father. As I was coming up, I watched him. He led me to a life of service. He taught me not to run. He taught me to make a change. We live in the community and I wanted my son to go to school in the community. I didn’t want him to go outside of our community to get something.”
Together, the community will rebuild. Ms. Johnson commented on Mr. Moore’s generous donation.
“It was so nice to see the smiles on people’s faces,” Ms. Johnson said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The St. Elizabeth Food Pantry is open to the public every fourth Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Every Thursday, it is open to local recipients who live within the boundaries of 31st Street to 51st Street and the Dan Ryan Interstate to Lake Michigan. On Thursdays, the food pantry is open from 6 to 8 p.m. and identification is required.
For more information or to volunteer, go to: https://www.chicagosfoodbank.org/locations/st-elizabeth-church-svdp/ or call Ms. Johnson at (773) 642-6532. To see more photos, visit: https://www.facebook.com/Divine.Word.Missionaries.Chicago.Province/