By Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (March 14, 2021) – Mount Zion UFL Ministries in Lansing has offered food to those in need for two years. Now, the free food offerings have doubled to include refrigerated foods, and clothing items are also available in the newly-named “Mt. Zion 24hr Mall Pantry.”
The first micro pantry opened in Lansing two years ago outside the church’s front doors. The cabinet was acquired through a charity that church secretary Betty Burley came across online. The completed cabinet was delivered for free a few weeks later and the 24-hour “take what you need, leave what you can” pantry was open.
The micro pantry was meant to fill a gap and reach those who are most in need with emergency assistance. It provided access to non-perishable foods at any time, to anyone. There was no need to provide identification or income, no paperwork had to be filled out. There was no need to interact with anyone and no need to wait in a long line.
The pantry helped provide access to those who might get some assistance but still need more help, who had trouble getting food assistance from agencies within limited hours, who may not be able to communicate easily due to a language barrier, or who may just be too intimidated to seek help. The pantry started seeing use on a daily basis.
Expanding to meet increased need
“Since the pantry went up in 2019, there has been a need for perishable items, as well. There has also been a growing need for clothing, personal items, baby items, etc. This need is too great for people to have to wait for a food bank to open up during the week,” Burley said.
“Because of COVID, the need has increased dramatically,” she said. “So a refrigerator, and two other pantries were added. So in total four units are now available at Mt. Zion on a 24-hour emergency basis. Provided is not only food, but perishable items such as milk, clothes for the homeless, blankets for the cold, and personal items. The needs far exceed non-perishable foods.”
The church spent about $2,000 to purchase and stock the commercial refrigerator and two pantries.
Burley said it’s hard to say how many people are using it. They can count those they see, but people come throughout the week and at night after hours, too. Based on what they’ve seen and the amount of food that has to be restocked, Burley said they figure that somewhere between 300 and 500 people are helped each week. She said she expects that to increase now that the additional pantries have been added. Right now an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 in groceries pass through the pantry each week.
A ribbon cutting took place on Friday to celebrate the three additions that create a “pantry mall” extending across the front of the church.
“So many times I have seen homeless and asked myself how I could do more. After we qualified for the original panty, we learned of the need for perishables and clothes and decided to open it as a mall. A mall is many outlets,” said Pastor J. Raphael Leon. “We now have this available 24 hours. There’s no qualifications you have to meet. You don’t have to register. It’s open after church hours. It’s accessible. So, no matter your age or gender or language, you can get help.”
The event began with a welcome from Burley followed by the singing of the Lord’s Prayer by choir member Quaintance Larkin and a prayer from church elder Juan Chamberlain. Pastor Leon talked about how they saw the growing need as people—who were grateful for the assistance—were also asking for things like milk and blankets. He paused as he got emotional. He recalled how touched he was to be able to be there when families came looking for help and to also be able to reach into their storage shed to supply coats.
A small group of church and community members were there for the dedication. In attendance on behalf of the village were Mayor Patty Eidam and Village Clerk Vivian Payne. Leon praised Eidam for her interest and support for their mission.
“You’re doing wonderful things here,” said Eidam, adding how impressed she was at how eager the church has been to reach out and be an active part of the community. She also expressed her wish to help Burley meet her goal of getting the word out about the pantry and reaching more people who are need.
The brief ceremony ended with a hymn and Eidam cutting the ribbon. The new pantries arrived a couple days before the ceremony and were painted to create a uniform look. Final touches to the mall were being completed that morning with the installation of a decorative border gate.
The pantry is seeking to meet the church’s mission of helping the most vulnerable, and it provides an opportunity for those who want to lend a hand to do so. Donations come from several sources, but many of them are from kind-hearted people who stop by to replenish the shelves.
Donors are welcome to put items directly into the pantry, but Burley said larger donations can be left beside the door after hours. Donors can also contact the church to arrange for larger donations. Financial donations are also accepted to help fund the mission. Call 708-394-3555 for more information.
- New micro pantry provides anonymous assistance to those in need (March 21, 2019)
Teenager Korey Ziemkowsi finishes third micro pantry, Lansing’s fourth (December 27, 2020)