Riverside Presbyterian Church’s food pantry is feeding more local families than ever, says director Lynda Nadkarni (right) and volunteer Stephen Marcus. | Jackie Pisano

According to 2020 Census data, the median household income for Riverside is $120,336. In North Riverside, the number is a little less than half that of its neighbor, at $55,879. 

Though both figures are well above Illinois’ poverty threshold of $27,479 for a family of four, LaGrange Park resident Lynda Nadkarni would be one of the first to tell you that there are certainly food-insecure families in what most would consider an affluent community. 

Nadkarni, who serves as the minister of mission and outreach at Riverside Presbyterian Church, says that this year alone, nearly 80% of patrons to the church’s food pantry have identified themselves as residents of the 60546 ZIP code. 

Since 2018, the 154-year-old church has operated its Little Food Pantry — a 6-foot-tall, glass-front shelving unit located right outside the church’s office entrance where anyone in need can come and take whatever food is available — 24 hours a day. 

Riverside Presbyterian Church food pantry coordinator Lynda Nadkarni (left) and volunteer Stephen Marcus pack a container with fresh produce and other items for those in need of food. About 80% of the food pantry’s clients come from the 60546 ZIP code. | Jackie Pisano

In the same vestibule, the church also supplements nonperishable food items with fresh produce inside two small commercial-grade refrigerators.

Though Riverside, North Riverside and its neighboring communities aren’t often considered to be places where residents struggle to make ends meet, Nadkarni says that five years ago, the church recognized a growing need for those who had fallen on hard times, specifically regarding food insecurity.

“In 2018, our then pastor really got the church to think about how we could be very mission-focused and intentional,” Nadkarni said. “We picked hunger, and this was one of the things we did about it — create this pantry. At the beginning, it was just donations from church people and was stocked a couple of times a week. Little by little, demand has increased.”

The food pantry is able to stock perishable food items in two small commercial-grade refrigerators. | Jackie Pisano

Though the Riverside area is serviced by larger food pantries, including one run by Riverside Township, Riverside Presbyterian Church’s Little Food Pantry sees itself as a vital, supplemental resource for food. 

“The setup is what makes us very unique,” Nadkarni said. “We don’t have any set hours, because it’s completely user-choice and because we don’t require people to register to use the pantry.”

From conversations with patrons, Nadkarni says many who are “house poor,” including renters who choose to live in the area for the public school systems and have little money left over at the end of the month for essentials like food and utilities. 

In recent months, the pantry has seen an uptick in use, specifically as inflation has led to higher grocery bills and increased gas prices, and from last month’s statewide cessation of special pandemic SNAP benefits. 

With close to 100 daily users, the church stocks the pantry twice a day — once first thing in the morning and a second time around dinner time. A team of pantry volunteers schedules produce pickups and stockers, ensuring not one day goes by with empty shelves.

Though the majority of clients come from Riverside and North Riverside, Nadkarni says patrons also come from Brookfield, LaGrange Park, Berwyn, Forest View, Lyons and Stickney. Most hear about the pantry by word-of-mouth, while others discover it by online postings from Nadkarni on community Facebook pages.

Each week, the church collects around $250 to purchase food. And, thanks to ongoing support twice a week from both Riverside Foods and Aldi in Lyons, a grant from Riverside Township and funds from other local groups including Eagle Scouts and Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity, what started as a church-supported mission has turned into a community-wide effort. 

Stephen Marcus, a lifelong member of the church and former Riverside resident who now resides in Lyons, is one of the pantry’s dedicated volunteers. 

For him, the motivation to step forward and help was simple.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” he said. “I’ve been in need before. I’m not prescient. I don’t know whether I’ll be in this situation to need this pantry’s services in the future again. I may, but I just want to do this.”

In addition to stocking the pantry, Marcus also delivers food to neighbors in his apartment building who can’t make the trip themselves. 

“I believe in this mission, and I feel like the local need for the pantry is growing,” he added.

To Nadkarni, hearing the many stories of clients is what continually inspires her to serve the community in this way.

“During spring break, I was stocking the pantry, and there was a mom there with two children, who said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for this. We come here during breaks and in the summer because we don’t get a free lunch [at school].’ 

“That is one way in which the pantry is making a difference in a community that is seemingly well-to-do, and we want to make sure everyone knows they are welcome.”

Riverside Presbyterian Church, 116 Barrypoint Road, welcomes new clients and volunteers to its Little Food Pantry. 

For more information on volunteer opportunities or food and financial partnership, email Nadkarni at missionandoutreach@rpcusa.org.