It was the holiday season of 2012 when Central North Side resident Jana Thompson first asked her neighbor, Darlene Rushing, to join her in volunteering at the Northside Food Pantry.
Rushing agreed, and came in to help on the pantry’s last day of operation before closing for the holidays.
“We were down to no produce, very little food left," Rushing recalled. "The people that were coming in the week before Christmas and Hannukah were getting wrapped-up beef jerky and granola bars -- whatever we could. I started thinking that winter and spring, ‘That’s not the best the North Side can do.’”
Rushing called together some other pantry volunteers for some brainstorming sessions at her house. Those meetings became the genesis for a volunteer group called the Food Pantry Advisers.
Since then, the advisers have been the catalyst for several major improvements, including new renovations to make the pantry ADA-compliant, plus a new website. They’ve been fundraising, too, increasing the number of monthly donors from five to 65. And the group has secured funding for new exterior signage, lighting and paint to give the pantry some “curb appeal.”
Rushing said the next thing on the advisors' list is reliability.
"We’d like to get to the point, though, where there’s always oatmeal on the shelf, where there’s always canned fruit and fruit juice on the shelves, where there’s always a can of tuna," Rushing said. "We can’t yet get to that level of reliability, sustainability.”
But the advisors want to provide more than just food for the North Side’s struggling families. The pantry serves anywhere from 450 to 1,000 households in a given month, sending out one ton of food per day in busy seasons.
Fellow food pantry adviser Jana Thompson said her group would like to offer those clients cleaning supplies and hygiene products, too.
“Because being poor is one crisis after another, and if we can help be a steady part of your crisis-filled life, we will be helping you -- not just by feeding you, but by lowering the stress level in your life,” Thompson said.
Thompson said with Rushing’s help, the Food Pantry Advisers have been making a difference, but there’s more to be done.
“All these people, through Observatory Hill, Perry Hilltop, Brighton Heights -- all of these people are hungry, and they all need help, and we’re all supposed to be helping each other," Thompson said. "We’re doing a fine job so far, and Darlene has been that center to help us get started, but we’re always looking for more people to help us.”
Rushing noted that the pantry’s success is a result of the community working together. She said the number of people donating to and volunteering for the pantry has increased to nearly 1,000 in recent months.
“So, I have every confidence that, in the future, the Food Pantry Advisers will be able to meet our goal, which is no one going hungry on the North Side,” Rushing said.