Riverside church to launch community dinners

Monthly meals part of mission to address food insecurity

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By Bob Uphues


Almost two years ago, Riverside Presbyterian Church opened its Little Food Pantry – a wood cabinet stocked with non-perishable food and personal care items – available at any time for anyone in need.

Now, the church committee responsible for that initiative is expanding that mission and is inviting people not only to take an item of food home with them but to come inside once each month and share a meal with members of the congregation.

On Sunday, June 9, at 5 p.m. Riverside Presbyterian Church, 116 Barrypoint Road, will host its first Community Dinner, which is open to anyone at no cost.

"Whether you hunger for food, good conversation or the opportunity to meet others in the community, please join us," states a flier for the June 9 dinner. "We won't be dressed up – come as you are."

According to Tara Gregus, who is a member of the church's Mission Committee and the person responsible for the Little Food Pantry in 2017, the dinners are part of the committee's focus on food insecurity locally, nationally and internationally.

What the Little Food Pantry initiative taught the congregation was that there was a need for it. Gregus said use of the pantry has exploded since the first months it was open. The pantry is stocked daily and earlier this week, was so heavily used that the cupboard was temporarily bare.

"We're having trouble keeping up," Gregus said.

While it's not completely clear who is using the pantry, church members and Gregus have been able to collect some anecdotal evidence that people are coming to the church from both Riverside and from out of town.

When she is there stocking the shelves and someone walks up to the pantry, Gregus says she tries to be welcoming and strike up a conversation. One recent visitor, she said, was a single mom from Riverside who told her the pantry was "a godsend" to help her supplement her own pantry at home, especially granola bars, which she puts in her son's school lunches.

"That's why we have this," Gregus said.

The pantry has become so popular, Gregus has arranged for the Aldi in Stickney to donate fresh produce otherwise slated for the dumpster to be donated to the pantry. Produce has been available at the pantry since March and the shelves are stocked on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"People show up at 10 a.m. for the produce," Gregus said. "It's something you can't get a lot of times at food pantries."

While people are invited to use the pantry at any time, Gregus said the Mission Committee wanted a way to more personally connect with those in need, which led to the community dinners, which will be held on the second Sunday of each month. 

"The point is not to try to get members for the church. It's to nourish those in need," Gregus said. "We thought, 'Why not invite people inside the walls of the church. Let's share a meal.'"

Gregus said she's not quite sure what to expect on June 9 when the doors open for the first community dinner, but they'll accommodate whatever crowd they get.

"I don't know if we'll be cooking for 50 or 150, so that'll be a bit of a challenge and part of the fun," Gregus said.

She also said the committee hopes to provide some sort of activity that people can participate in. On June 9, she said, it's likely to be bingo, but the activities could be seasonal, like pumpkin carving in October or singing Christmas carols in December.

"It'll be some kind of fun activity where people can be together, enjoy each other's company and make people feel welcome," Gregus said. 

Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Reader Comments

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Vera Jandacek Wilt  

Posted: June 7th, 2019 10:26 AM

Riverside Township is thrilled to have additional support for those in need. Kudos to the church for providing this service. Let me piggyback here to remind everyone that the Riverside Township Food Pantry serves all the Township Residents. The Township Pantry is open every weekday (except holidays), from 9:30 until 3:30 Monday through Wednesday, until 4:30 on Thursdays, and until 2:30 on Fridays. We ask that interested parties call at least one hour in advance so that we can guarantee enough bags are available in the office: 708-442-4400. All that is needed is proof of residency in the township (most of Riverside, North Riverside from Harlem to the east side of 9th Ave., Hollywood, Riverside Lawn and the east end of Lyons between Ogden and Pershing. No questions asked, other than residency. ONCE PER MONTH, participants can pick up 2 pre-packed tote bags of non-perishable items.

Lisa Kay  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 1:26 PM

Kathleen, Bridget, and any others who would like to contribute, donations would be more than welcome. Goods can be dropped at the church. The office is right inside the door next to the pantry, but if the church isn't open when you arrive, you may leave donations at the door or even right in the pantry. If it is easier, designated monetary donations or gift cards are also welcome and will be used to shop for the pantry. They can be mailed to the church or dropped off (there is a mail slot in the door). We are so thankful for community members who join us in helping out our neighbors! Hope to see you at dinner!

Tara Leiby Gregus  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 1:22 PM

I would like to emphasize that although the article says that I am the person "responsible" for the Little Food Pantry, I am merely the person who proposed the idea initially. Many, many people have worked on it since then, from Jon Jansky, who built it, to the many people who stock it regularly to those who faithfully bring in supplies for it, and our Mission Committee who has wholeheartedly supported it. It has truly been a group effort.

Tara Leiby Gregus  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 1:15 PM

Kathleen, thank you for your willingness to help. Anyone can donate to our little food pantry. You can put food items directly into the pantry or drop them off with our church office Monday-Thursday 9am-noon (summer hours). We appreciate all donations! Monetary donations are welcome also.

Kathleen Stafford Gilliland from Lyons  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 12:43 PM

I work in Riverside and have lived this idea. Is there any way to donate canned goods and packaged goods? I have been in this position often in my life, I would like to do what I can to help. I wouls also love to come to the dinner. It will depend on how late I work on Sunday, but I am right on Burlington. God Bless you.

Bridget Doherty from Riverside  

Posted: June 5th, 2019 7:38 AM

Amazing and inspiring. Please let the broader community know how we can help.

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