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Elsie’s Food Pantry reaches out during pandemic

elsies food photo 4 16 scaled
Photo by Joe Boyle
The Elsie’s Food Pantry donation box for non-perishable items can be found alongside Savior Divine Lutheran Church in Palos Hills. The demand for food has been greater the past month because of COVID-19.
By Joe Boyle
The crowds are arriving earlier and the lines are longer at Elsie’s Food Pantry in Palos Hills.
Beth Heinrich, the director of Elise’s Food Pantry that operates out of Savior Divine Lutheran Church, 10040 S. 88th Ave., said the coronavirus pandemic has hit the community hard and the need to provide food is greater now than ever.
“Some people are out there at noon,” said Heinrich, who has served as the director of Elsie’s Pantry for 20 years. “The lines have been starting at 1 p.m. and that is unusual. We usually have 40 to 50 families who come for donations. Now it averages 60 to 70. There are lot of people in need right now.”
The pantry is open from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Heinrich said the organization usually has as many as 18 volunteers but are now down to five since the emergence of COVID-19.
“Right now, we only have two people outside who put the boxes of items in the trunks of cars,” said Heinrich, 58. “Of course, they are wearing masks and gloves and being as careful as they can. They are keeping social distance.”
While more people are out of work, Heinrich said the goal of Elsie’s Food Pantry has not wavered. What has been bringing her joy of late is the donations she has received from residents of Palos Hills. Many of those donations arrive as non-perishable food and monetary donations.
“The mayor of Hickory Hills, Mike Howley, contacted us last week to give a monetary donation from the city,” Heinrich said. “On Food Rescue Day every Wednesday we have been receiving large donations from Target, which has supplied everything from diapers, paper products and canned goods.”
Heinrich said local businesses like Mariano’s, Sam’s Club and Walmart have often provided donations for the pantry. Jewel-Osco has also been a frequent contributor, she said. Residents can also donate pastas, spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese and cereal. Heinrich said during normal circumstances the pantry receives about 10,000 pounds of food a month. Frequently, the pantry has available two or three different types of meats, Heinrich said.
The origins of Elsie’s Food Pantry dates back to 2000 when Heinrich organized the initial effort, with the help of her kids and some volunteers at the old Moraine Valley Community Church, which used to be on the grounds of the Moraine Valley Community College campus. The pantry will mark its 20th anniversary on May 5.
The first major donation was made by the post office, which provided 25 binds of non-perishable items. It just grew from there. The name of Elsie became part of the food pantry name due to a request by one of the volunteers, Jackie Pyle, who asked the pastor to name it in memory of her mother, who was active in the church and donated food for those in need.
When the land for Moraine Valley Community Church was sold to the college, Heinrich searched for another church where Elsie’s Food Pantry could operate. She looked into Savior Divine Church first and immediately like what she saw. An arrangement was made in 2012 to move Elsie’s Food Pantry to Savior Divine Church.
“They have always been so good to us,” Heinrich said.
The church is led by Pastor Marty Pauschke, who Heinrich said is a loyal supporter of Elsie’s Food Pantry. Residents can donate non-perishable food products in the Elsie’s Food Pantry drop-off box located at the north driveway by the mailboxes.
“Pastor Marty is a very good person,” Heinrich said.
The church is currently not in operation because of the pandemic. During more normal times, a nurse is present to provide free blood pressure checking once a month. Pillars, which is located in Hickory Hills, has been present occasionally and seeks to provide help to families with children ages 5 and younger. The University of Illinois Extension comes to provide recipes for making various foods.
Food is also secured from the Chicago Food Depository as well as from local grocery stores. And for now, pick-up of food donations on Thursday afternoons are drive-through only.
The pandemic is unprecedented but Heinrich, who was a longtime resident of Palos Hills before recently moving to Mokena, has seen the demand rise during tough times over the past two decades.
Heinrich even admitted that she considered ending the pantry this winter as she cared for her ailing father. But through the efforts of David Skowronski, who has served as coordinator for about five years for the pantry, it continues. Heinrich’s father died last month but she added Skowronski was invaluable during this period.
“He has kept it going,” Heinrich said. “He is just so loyal. We have so many good volunteers.”
And Heinrich admits that this is one of the most difficult aspects of going through this pandemic.
“That is one of the toughest things about this, not seeing the people and interacting with them.”
The pantry is a joint ministry of Savior Divine Church and Living Faith Community Church, which is located in Lockport.
And despite the challenges ahead. Heinrich said she plans to continue to be the director of Elsie’s Food Pantry.
“I just love giving back,” Heinrich said. “It’s just part of my nature. I have a genuine love for the people and our volunteers. We want to help them and treat them with dignity.”
Heinrich said they get a lot of mileage out of a budget of about $4,000 a year.
“As long as we have food to give out, we will continue to do this,” Heinrich added.

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