In 1970, a couple of neighbors didn’t think some folks in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood had enough food on their table at dinnertime. They drove a Volkswagen to a Treasure Island store on North Broadway and distributed groceries. About 100 people were served in the first year, which was the beginning of what eventually evolved into Lakeview Pantry.
Over the years, the venerable food pantry has expanded its geographic footprint beyond the North Side and added support services such as mental health, job and housing assistance. Now leadership at the nonprofit says it’s time to turn the page in this new era and rebrand the food pantry. As of Friday, a new name change takes effect: Nourishing Hope.
“We considered dozens and dozens of names and landed on Nourishing Hope because it really represented what we have always done, and what we hope to continue to do. And that is nourish hope in the lives of Chicagoans,” said CEO Kellie O’Connell.
Nourishing Hope also has new headquarters at 1716 W. Hubbard St., which staff feels is more centrally located.
“People that maybe don’t live in Lakeview think our services aren’t for them, when in reality, we’ve been serving a lot of the city for a long time,” O’Connell said.
In providing 4 million meals a year, Nourishing Hope has three other locations: a market in Lakeview, a market in partnership with La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park and a hub for online food pick-ups in Ravenswood.
But there had been geographic boundaries to the pantry’s Sheridan Market in Lakeview.
“When the pandemic hit, we just couldn’t turn people away. That didn’t feel right at all so we lifted any kind of boundaries and decided to welcome anyone who wanted to come get groceries at any of our sites,” O’Connell said.
She said the pandemic is still affecting people, especially those in the hospitality industry. And on top of the pandemic, inflation is pushing people paycheck-to-paycheck.
“Since January, we started to see about a 25% increase in visits to all of our food locations with distribution programs. So it’s been tough,” O’Connell said.
La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park has been a partner since 2019. That site includes a food pantry that people can access when they receive housing services.
“It was about the need of the community. There’s just not enough food access to a lot of individuals that are low-income. And so the idea was to try to make sure that we were able to provide food access to the folks,” said executive director Jose Munoz.
Part of the rebranding is to help Nourishing Hope make inroads on the South and West sides — a goal for Natia Barnett, who started as the organization’s new program expansion manager three months ago.
“The name change is great because it doesn’t make people feel like there’s limitations. The name now presents more of an opportunity for people,” Barnett said.
She said her goal is to create 30 new partnerships.
“We have a lot of people who don’t have [food] access and have a hard time getting to it. So the goal is to partner with people who know that and understand it and want to help. We also want to extend our home delivery and online market programs to the South and West sides,” Barnett said.
For a North Side institution to build that trust, she must go out and talk to organizations, Barnett said.
“I come from a long line of women who have always been very active in their community, and were a resource for help,” Barnett said. “My great-grandmother fed people in the community for 40 years. Right out of her garden in the backyard, all of the vegetables and a little bit of fruit.”