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