30 years ago, parishioners at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church felt compelled to help their hungry neighbors.
“Churches did have small pantries, but on a regular basis there was nowhere for people to go,” said Loaves & Fishes Founder, Pat Lawrence. “So I got this idea in my head that we should bring it up to the committee to have a food pantry.”
In the beginning, Loaves & Fishes operated out of a closet in the church and volunteers delivered food, toiletries and paper products to their neighbors’ homes.
In 1991, 18 other churches joined St. Raphael’s, became a not-for-profit, and moved into a bigger location on 5th Avenue.
Over the next ten years, the organization expanded and by 2002, they were helping over 9,000 hungry residents eat, while also keeping their dignity.
“One of the greatest things about the pantry is for people that are in need, they come and take, when things get better they can start bringing food in and volunteer,” said longtime volunteer, Mary Blessing. “So for me it keeps that respectability and for people who think it’s humiliating it’s not because there’s a turn around.”
In 2008, Loaves & Fishes was providing 5,000 bags of groceries to area families each month and barely had enough room for supplies in its warehouse.
Seeing the need for more space, the pantry’s new leader Charles McLimans, helped secure grants to buy land on High Grove Lane.
Three years later, its 17,000 square foot facility was completed, and the group expanded its coverage to all of DuPage County.
As the food pantry looks ahead to the next 30 years, its goal remains to fight hunger in our community.
But, along with a new name: Loaves & Fishes Community Services. Its approach is changing as well.
“As we continue to study this issue, you can’t end hunger simply by handing out more food,” said McLimans. “Food insecurity is caused by other underlying poverty issues. So we’ve become an multi-service, anti-poverty organization.”
Loaves & Fishes offers things like income tax assistance and English as a second language, to stop the cycle of food insecurity.
What started as a small church can closet three decades ago, has grown into the largest single site food pantry in DuPage County, handing out more than 3.2 million pounds of food just last year.
Its something the original volunteers never imagined or take credit for, because they were just doing what Napervillians do, helping those in need.
“When I walk through this building it, brings it all back,” said longtime volunteer, Harol-Deane Garren. “All that we’ve contributed. And I wish every community could do the same. Because we have wonderful people in Naperville. All you have to do is ask. If they hear about it or they know you need help, they are willing to give.”
To volunteer or donate, visit loaves-fishes.org.
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