A decade ago, the small congregation at Faith Lutheran Church in Brookfield could see the warning signs.
The number of active congregants had dwindled to about 50, and it was unlikely that trend was going to reverse itself. The conversation turned to creating a legacy, one that would keep the spirit of Faith Lutheran Church alive, if only in their memories.
In 2015, they opened the Share Food Share Love Food Pantry in the basement of the church at 3801 Madison Ave. Eight years later, Faith Lutheran Church is no more, but its legacy mission grows stronger by the day.
“The biggest part is really getting food to people and maybe some non-food items they can’t always get,” said Linda Dumas, a former Faith Lutheran congregant who serves as the pantry manager for Share Food Share Love.
“We’re always looking for ways to better serve the community,” she added. “This was designed as a community pantry, not as a church pantry, that’s why it never had the church’s name on it. We do want to make sure we have a positive presence and make an impact in the community.”
In November 2021, Share Food Share Love made the leap out of the church basement – they’d outgrown the small space – and into a 7,000-square-foot warehouse at 9030 Brookfield Ave.
The $325,000 purchase was financed by getting a $275,000 mortgage from the property’s former owner, Julius Sparacino, who at first used the rear of the warehouse while the food pantry operated in the front two-thirds.
Now, Share Food Share Love plans to expand into the rear space after paying off the mortgage outright in April. They raised the funds by selling the Faith Lutheran Church property, which Share Food Share Love acquired in late 2022 when it was donated to the 501c3 charity by the congregation.
“When we decided that we had no further options and that we were going to need to close, we had a congregational meeting and voted to turn the proceeds of the building over to the food pantry,” Dumas said. “And that went back to the fact that in 2013, that [legacy] had been our goal.”
Share Food Share Love Food Pantry is a robust operation staffed entirely by volunteers, including pantry manager Dumas; her husband, John, who is the administrative director; and her daughter, Jessie Meyer, one of two pantry coordinators. John and Jessie are also on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
You’ll find volunteers there just about every Tuesday and Friday morning, when main deliveries from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, of which Share Food Share Love is an affiliate, arrive.
The food pantry also receives weekly deliveries of food and other items, like flowers, from Trader Joe’s in LaGrange. Food pantry volunteers also regularly collect food items placed in a drop box at Tischler Finer Foods in Brookfield. Others call Linda Dumas to schedule drop offs at the pantry. She’ll even go to people’s homes to pick up donations herself.
Food distribution takes place every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 10 am. to noon. According to Linda Dumas, anywhere from eight to 20 volunteers will be on hand to help register those seeking the pantry’s services and guide them through the main food distribution area.
Some volunteers, like LaGrange Park resident Ken Bahl, work mainly behind the scenes, accepting deliveries and shelving items. Bahl was not a Faith Lutheran Church member.
He found out about the food pantry because his daughter lived near the church. Before moving to LaGrange Park, Bahl had lived for many years in Oak Park and donated to a local food pantry there every holiday season.
When he went to the church one day to make a donation, he found the door locked. On the door, however, was a sign with Share Food Share Love’s website address. After visiting the site, he decided he wanted to volunteer.
“People always say you get more out of it than you put in,” said Bahl. “That’s the case here. Even though I’m helping someone else out, I feel like I’m doing more for myself in a lot of ways.”
Around 40 families are served at each distribution day, said Linda Dumas. People take a number as they arrive and then sit in a waiting room at the front of the building. Those who haven’t used the pantry before are registered, and clients – Dumas said they are starting to use the term “neighbors” because that’s how they want those coming to the pantry to feel – are called by number into the main pantry to “shop” for items.
People grab a shopping cart – many donated by Tischler’s – and are guided by a volunteer past tables stocked with non-perishable items, like canned and dried beans, mac and cheese and peanut butter, picking items they want.
They then pass by about a dozen refrigerators and freezers lining the walls, where they can find items like eggs, milk, meat and cheese. On more tables there’s an assortment of bread and fresh produce – which, at this time of year, includes vegetables from local gardens.
There’s yet more items in the back with perishable items stocked in an enormous walk-in fridge/freezer donated and custom built by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
The next phase, now that Share Food Share Love owns the building free and clear, is to move storage to the rear and increase the “store” space. Linda Dumas said they’d like to create more aisles to mimic a grocery store setup.
When her husband, John, took on the role of administrative director, Linda Dumas was still working full-time and told him not to expect her there very often.
“The second time I was here, I was hooked,” said Linda, who is now retired. “You can actually see the impact you make on people, when you talk to the client who came in. … Often they say to us, ‘We’ve gone to other pantries and you are by far the nicest.’ And that’s what we push, treating people with dignity, always being nice.”
The message of the food pantry is summed up, Bahl said, by the Share Food Share Love sign now affixed to brick front of the warehouse.
“The sign out front tells the whole story,” Bahl said. “It’s been a great thing.”