Mobile Food Pantry

Last Saturday the Northern Illinois Food Bank hosted a Pop-Up Market at Six Flags. I volunteered for a 3-hour shift packing boxes as part of the distribution for thousands of families.

The market was scheduled for 10 – 1:00, but the line was closed at 11:30 a.m. The market had reached its limit. Four hours later we were still working to serve people who’d been waiting all that time.

The shift I worked started at 11:00 and was supposed to end at 2:00. Seeing that people were still waiting to be served and there was work to do, I stayed. By 4:00 I could not do it any more. I’d been on my feet for hours. Our work station of 4 people had loaded thousands of eggs and hefted probably a ton of chorizo and venison into family-sized boxes. Every half hour we would change the way we packed when the event manager re-evaluated inventory vs. cars in line: “That’s running low, put in one instead of two per box. We still have lots of that, pack three instead of one.” we worked like an assembly line but our minds could not wander. We had to focus to remember the most recent instructions.

Families waiting in line to get food.

In the line of cars, families waited. The moved from the Six Flags entrance road, to the parking lot, to a set of lanes separated by orange cones. Many had children or babies with them. A few parents who got out of their cars to ask:

  • “Will there be enough food for everyone? I have a 1-year-old and I’m concerned.”
  • “Is there a bathroom? I need to take care of my daughter.”
  • “Can we get some water? We’ve been waiting in the car for many hours.”

Though they were clearly tired and anxious, everyone I spoke to was kind and patient. The families waiting for food, the staff, and the volunteers all showed forbearance, generosity, and good will. I’m sure we all went home exhausted that night. My muscles ached and I felt a little sunburned. Too tired to cook dinner for my family, we ordered takeout and watched tv.

I thought of the families who’d waited in their cars for so long. They were surely also exhausted, got home weary and surprised at how much of the day they’d spent at the pop-up pantry. If they ordered fatigue-induced takeout it was a tight trade-off. Some other expense will go unpaid because of that stress relief.


The statistics about people who’ve lost their jobs in the last couple of months – 20.5 million Americans lost jobs in April – became concrete for me that day. Many of those 20+ million people live paycheck-to-paycheck and losing a job means a sudden tumble into urgent need.

Looking east from Six Flags. I later heard that the line stretched down Grand Avenue almost to Highway 41.

Both the volunteers and the neighbors receiving food were there because of our need. The need for food is easy to recognize; the need to feel useful, to serve others, to help solve an overwhelming problem is harder to see. It is still a need.

The biggest difference between me and the neighbors receiving food is that I have so many choices. I could choose to go help or not. I could choose to leave when I felt exhausted. I could choose to get takeout instead of making dinner. I could even choose to hang out with my family or go into a room by myself, because my house is big enough for that.

Money gives us choices. The millions of people losing their jobs right now are losing access to choices, and many will now trade their time for things they need. Like food.

If COVID-19 is a storm, we’re all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat. If your boat is sea worthy and well-stocked, please share. We need our neighbors to get through this storm too.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. Isaiah 58:10

There are many agencies doing excellent work in Lake County during this crisis. Here are few to consider supporting with your money, your prayers, and your time:

Northern Illinois Food Bank

Christian Neighbors Church is running an emergency food box ministry in Waukegan, partnering with several congregations

PADS Lake County helps people experiencing homelessness

Bernie’s Book Bank providing books for under-served children

Homelessness Forum Report

Recently I dragged my three t(w)eens and a couple of neighbors along to the Community Conversation on Homelessness & Panhandling offered by Village of Gurnee. Once the t(w)eens cleared off the table of treats they sat behind me goofing around and giggling, so I only stayed for half the presentation. Even so, I learned a few things.

This community forum was prompted, I believe, by the consistent presence of panhandlers in Gurnee over the last few years. I’ve often observed people panhandling near the Hunt Club Rd. shopping areas and near the intersection of Route 41 and Grand Ave. Why are people doing this in Gurnee more than other neighboring communities? Why does Gurnee allow it? How should we respond?

Why are people panhandling in Gurnee? Mayor Kovarik said that the volume of traffic in Gurnee is the main reason. Because we are a tourist destination, there are thousands of people coming through Gurnee every day. If 1% of drivers give money to panhandlers, then more drivers=more money.

Why does Gurnee allow panhandling? If someone is on a public sidewalk, then his or her right to free speech is protected. The Village will respond to complaints from property owners about panhandling on their property.

How should we respond? Everyone on the panel agreed that it is more helpful to give our resources to the local agencies addressing the needs of people who are homeless than to give money directly to people who are panhandling. (A list of the agencies is at the end of this post.) One audience member described a connection he has learned of between drug addiction and panhandling – that the kind of small, daily allowance panhandling can provide can support an addiction by paying for drugs and a hotel room for one day. Addiction is a pernicious disease that requires ongoing support to overcome.

Many, many thanks to the Village of Gurnee, Mayor Kovarik and Immanuel Church for hosting this discussion. Thank you to the community organizations who were on the panel:

If you are concerned about homelessness in our area, please make a gift to Housing First, PADS, or Community Partners for Affordable Housing.

End note: Even though my kids did not appear to pay attention, it helped us to talk about panhandling, homelessness, and how we choose to love people with big needs. I suspect that exposure to these kinds of discussions is valuable for them even if they are on the margins of it.

Panhandling & Homelessness

When we talk about poverty, people often talk about panhandling. This is how many of us see – and are challenged to respond to – poverty in our daily lives.

Please join this community conversation on Tuesday, September 24 @ 7:00 p.m. at Immanuel Church, 2300 N. Dilleys Road in Gurnee. Thank you to the many community organizations collaborating to host this event.

Honoring Dr. King

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my social media feed was full of quotes from Dr. King. It’s good to see him remembered and his ideas passed on. God knows we still need his wisdom on fighting injustice.

Much as I love inspiring quotes, nothing compares to reading whole works. Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail — directed to the silent church and as relevant today as it was in 1963 — is worth the hour you will spend reading it. The full text and the audio of Dr. King reading the letter are online here.

In this letter, King outlines so thoroughly and compassionately and passionately the logic of the movement he led. That cannot be captured in a short quote. Don’t miss out.

Echo Welcome to Our Neighbors

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” -Jesus

“We welcome people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities into our churches, neighborhoods, homes and communities.” – 30+ Lake County churches in a joint statement

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” – You & me

I am sure we all try to live out this welcome in our lives. We strive to treat everyone we meet with respect and kindness that shines the light of Christ. Individual kindness is essential but not sufficient. We also need to announce it in public.

We need to find our megaphones and announce welcome to our neighborhoods and communities, to proclaim it loudly and invite others to join their voices.

The whisper of kindness in our individual relationships grows into a loud voice proclaiming welcome when we echo each other.

These yard signs are showing up in communities around the country. I plan to put one up in my yard. Some people might notice it. Some people might read it. Lots of people probably will not notice it.

 

 

 

 

 

But what if, on the next block, someone echoes it…

And a neighborhood over, it echoes again…

The welcome gets louder. The echoed message makes our neighborhood a more welcoming community, just as we have promised.

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Do you want to echo welcome to our neighbors? Drop me a note and we’ll connect!  I’ll order signs. The cost is $15 each. You can find my e-mail address is on the About page.

How to Gather Volunteers

Every week a miracle happens here and you are part of it. This was the start of an announcement at the end of the worship service one week. I expected the next sentence to be something about communion, or prayer.

Every week, after worship, we work together to put away all these chairs (150-200 folding chairs) and it happens in no time because so many of you help. That’s a miracle.

Our volunteer-recruiter went on to talk about forming teams to set up the chairs before the service — no less amazing, but less miraculous-seeming  because it requires planning.

Continue reading “How to Gather Volunteers”

Links to Understanding

In April and May I will be teaching the Bridges Out of Poverty workshop, whiBridges Out of Poverty book coverch I love for its tools to build bridges across differences of socioeconomic status. These articles all connect with some of the major concepts of Bridges.

How Rich People See the World Differently This essay from New York Magazine describes how socioeconomic environment shapes perspective. Researchers found that higher social status correlated with lower empathic response. Why? We don’t know, but one neuroscientist hypothesized: “If you have more power and status, you may not have to care as much about what people are thinking and feeling; and also, if you’re in a resource-scarce environment, where things are a little more unpredictable and maybe a little more dangerous, it would be very adaptive to pay attention to others, how they’re feeling and what they’re going to do.”

On A Plate: A Short Story about Privilege (illustrated) by Toby Morris. For the visual thinker, an illustrated story of how environment influences opportunities.

Infant Mortality Rates in the U.S. are higher than in most other wealthy nations. Why? “The higher U.S. mortality rates are due ‘entirely, or almost entirely, to high mortality among less advantaged groups.’ To put it bluntly, babies born to poor moms in the U.S. are significantly more likely to die in their first year than babies born to wealthier moms.”

There is Only One Way Out of Poverty  In this 5-minute video, Arthur Brooks lays out a politically conservative approach to poverty alleviation. Public policy can be intimidating because it is complex; it is also powerful. It is good to work to understand the assumptions underneath various policies.

What Does it Take to Change?

ShoesI’m trying to change. I’d rate my success as mediocre.

For the last decade or so I’ve been trying to become a runner. It’s a big change for me after a lifetime with the identity NOT ATHLETIC.

I played softball on my church youth group team because my dad was the coach. I watched the game from right field where I dropped my glove on the grass and made bracelets of clover.

I ran a mile in 6th grade for field day and vomited at the end.

I’ve tried several times to pick up running. I remember making a go of it in my early 30s and thinking maybe I’d run a marathon when I turned 40. I passed 40 in running shoes at a brisk walking pace. Continue reading “What Does it Take to Change?”

This is Good Government!

I was tempted to write the title of this post in ALL CAPS because  I am so proud to live in Lake County right now.

My county law enforcement and health agencies have accomplished something important together.

AWayOutLCThey have done it with justice, kindness, and humility.

The program, called A Way Out, makes police departments across the county safe places for people addicted to drugs to get help.

“Under a new program initiated across Lake County, those struggling with any type of addiction can walk into a police station and find help rather than handcuffs. Continue reading “This is Good Government!”