Chicago Family Tackles Food Insecurity With Pantry

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Chicago Family Tackles Food Insecurity With Pantry
All Things Through Christ Outreach Ministry, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, distributed over 100,000 pounds of food in 2020.

For some folks, Saturday is all about running errands, like grabbing groceries.  

From pasta sauce to pork to toiletries, customers take their pick, pack their items and walk out free of charge. 

This is the experience "All Things Through Christ Outreach Ministry" has worked more than 20 years to offer its customers — the right to choose at a food pantry. 

"People don't like to feel like that being handed out something. 'You take this' and you know, 'That's what you get' and you know, and that's all it is. We like to have them feel comfortable and knowing that they mean something to us," senior board member David McKenzie Sr. said.

ATTCOM's food pantry is in the heart of Englewood — a Chicago neighborhood where more than 50% of households make less than $25,000. 

The steady stream of people walking in is a sign of the times. Nearly 14 million U.S. households struggled to put enough food on the table in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   

The pantry, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, distributed over 100,000 pounds of food in 2020. This immense service fulfilled a request made decades ago.  

"The way he talks to me, it's like a voice that you hear. The voice is not hard and he says, 'I want you to feed my people,'" ATTCOM founder Samella McKenzie said. 

Samella founded the food pantry with the help of her 10 children.  

"We chipped in — all 10 of us — to help her bring together food from our homes and to connect her with places like the food depository and Food for Friends, all the partners and partnerships," Gwendolyn said.

Community members called Samella Mother McKenzie. Before she died last year, she strived to feed her community no matter the circumstances.

"I get supplies here all the time," one customer said. "This is a blessing for my family. I put food on the table. I appreciate the churches doing this food pantry." 

"We never closed during COVID because she said, 'Keep doing what you're doing,' you know, 'Keep serving the people. And our doors stayed open,'" Gwendolyn said.

The family says over the last 20 years the community has evolved but the community's needs are the same. 

"The bible says the poor you'll have with you, always. So in that sense, it hasn't changed," ATTCOM vice president Carther McKenzie Jr. said.

What's happening in Englewood is a reflection of what's happening nationally. Though our population has become larger and more diverse, the percentage of U.S. households struggling with food insecurity is the same today as it was 20 years ago.  

Mother McKenzie worked to break this cycle even when her season of service was coming to a close. 

"You know, with her in her last week, when she was still talking, she'd throw the covers back and say, 'I got to get to the church.' She passed that week but this was her heart," Gwendolyn said.

Mother McKenzie died in June of 2020, leaving behind a legacy her family vows to build on. 

"A lot of a lot of people have given up hope. They've given up hope and when you lose hope, you lose everything," Carther said. "And so that's what we're trying to do now. Let them know that if you need a shoulder to lean on, you can come lean on us."

A legacy of hope for a better outcome.