No one knew what to expect when St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Buena Park hosted its first pop-up food pantry on April 19. But all were surprised when almost 2,000 people showed up to receive a 30-pound box of grocery staples.
“I thought maybe we’d have 500 people, so I requested 1,000 boxes of food to be safe,” said Father Manuel Dorantes, pastor. “Then I had to tell the 1,001 person in line that we had run out. It was heart breaking, the need is so great.”
Dorantes, who has been pastor of the church since July of 2019, started thinking about ways to reach parishoners after the church was ordered by the governor to close its doors on March 15. His first move was to livestream Sunday Mass. But in meeting with the Parish Council, he knew more needed to be done. Parishoners volunteered to shop for groceries for the elderly, but soon found those people often didn’t have the money to pay. He tried to get gift cards to local grocery stores, but knew that wasn’t sustainable, since the church is also in financial need.
“This is a huge crises and I wondered if we could do anything, in addition to prayer, to practice our faith,” he said. “Lake View Pantry does a phoenmenal job, but their need was up 300 percent and they were just overwhelmed. We had a totally empty church and enough volunteers. The pandemic has forced us to close our church doors but our mission continues.
Dorantes is a board member of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and thought the church could partner with them to host a pop up food pantry. Word quickly spread, particularly among the immigrant communities.
“As you see on the news, the black and brown communities have been the hardest hit ,” he said. “Many immigrants are also afraid to seek help. But the church is a trusted partner in this community. With social distancing, that first Sunday, the line stretched for almost three miles and we had people from 85 zip codes.”
The pantry is open to anyone in need, no sign up is required. The pantry will be open at the church, located at 4200 North Sheridan Road, every Sunday at 3 p.m. as long as the pandemic persists.
“I hope we don’t go back to ‘normal’ when the pandemic is over,” Dorantes said. “I think we could end up with a better situation than we had. The pandemic is making all of us think about what we really value.”
Some still photos including some from a drone. https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21ALsGMuI1pSdsjzE&id=2C198E323783E536%215400&cid=2C198E323783E536
This is a cool drone shot of people waiting in line.