Ever since buying up properties in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard and Eight Corners almost a decade ago in the hopes of building a new Methodist church and community center, Linda Sokol Francis always saw the site as a place with a mission.

And while it might fall short of a community center, there’s a new structure on the site dedicated to serving others — in the form of a mini food/home supplies pantry courtesy of the Brookfield-Riverside Rotary Club.

At first glance the wood cabinet perched atop a 4-by-4 inch post looks like a Little Free Library, except in this case it’s a “Little Free Pantry” opened via a sliding bolt.

“It’s a two-way exchange,” said Charles Ezell, president of the Brookfield-Riverside Rotary. “People put in and people take out on an honor system.”

The mini-pantry includes non-perishable food items – on May 22 there was everything from baby formula to mac and cheese to canned vegetables to pudding snack packs. Ezell said he hopes people may also want to donate things like diapers, toiletries and personal care products as well.

Rev. Karl Sokol, a Methodist minister, Rotary member and Linda Sokol Francis’ son, has been the point person for the mini-pantry project, said Ezell. One of Sokol’s high school friends, Oak Brook resident Bill Steinhauer, donated his carpentry services to build the pantry out of a solid-core door which was then coated with a marine varnish to help it withstand the elements.

In appreciation for Steinhauer’s efforts, the Rotary Club on May 19 presented him with its Paul Harris Award, given to people who contribute substantially to the Rotary organization.

The mini-pantry went up on April 27, next to the community garden plot tended to by Sokol’s Compassion UMC congregation and within view of his mother’s business office, across the street on Grand Boulevard.

While Brookfield has two full-size food pantries serving area residents, Sokol said the mini-pantry was an informal way for anyone in need to quickly pick something up without having to fill out paperwork or wait for a specific day.

“There are lots of kids [from S.E. Gross School] going by every day, some of whom have any level of food insecurity,” Sokol said. “With that, we have no idea who is using the pantry or why, but there has been a fair amount of rotation. Somebody’s using it, and that’s the only thing that matters.”

Of course, there was some concern about the possibility of vandalism or someone just making off with everything inside the pantry, but so far that’s not been a concern.

Ezell said the Rotary will soon post a sign, spelling out guidelines for the mini-pantry’s use and what it’s for, but so far, so good.

“It seems like items are going in and out, so we don’t feel there’s any abuse at this point,” Ezell said.

While the Little Free Pantry is perhaps the most visible effort by the local Rotary club, it’s not the only charitable initiative in which it’s involved. The club holds winter coat drives and participates in Toys for Tots. 

But it most ambitious project in the works will benefit the people of Las Mesas, a tiny, isolated village in Jalisco, Mexico. The Brookfield-Riverside club has partnered with clubs in LaGrange, Hinsdale, Darien, and Western Springs to raise money to buy medical supplies and equipment along with a water purification system for the community of a dozen or so houses. The $36,000 project is also receiving grant funding from the Rotary’s district organization and may be in line for a Rotary International grant, said Ezell, who has visited Las Mesas a half dozen time to meet with residents and officials.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we need that final grant,” Ezell said.

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