Food Hero: Kellie O’Connell

Food Hero: Kellie O’Connell

Lakeview Pantry

When the stay-at-home order went into effect, Lakeview Pantry realized its services would be needed more than ever, but food and social services would have to be delivered in new, socially distanced ways.

Thanks to creative thinking, online technology, and the Chicago Cubs, Lakeview Pantry was able to provide food to a population of clients that swelled to 400% its regular size.

Lakeview Pantry, with three sites on Chicago’s North Side and West Side, annually provides 2.3 million free meals, as well as social services and mental health counseling to approximately 13,500 seniors, adults with disabilities, and low-income families.

Kellie O'Connell quote But as the coronavirus pandemic caused massive layoffs, requests for food assistance quadrupled. Adding to the strain on the organization, grocery stores ran low on staples, food donations dwindled, and older pantry volunteers stayed home.

Enter the Chicago Cubs, who offered the Wrigley Field concourse as a food packing and distribution site in spring, enabling volunteers and clients to spread out and maintain physical distancing. A call for more volunteers resulted in 2,000 people stepping forward. Hotels and restaurants donated unused food, and donations from individuals and food manufacturers poured in.

To reduce face-to-face contact, Lakeview Pantry streamlined its intake process and encouraged clients to order ahead using an online system that had been recently rolled out, says Kellie O’Connell, Lakeview Pantry’s CEO.

Lakeview Pantry’s can-do attitude hasn’t dimmed in the face of the coronavirus, O’Connell says. “We knew this is exactly who we are, and this is exactly the mission we were called to do.”

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue. Photo by Jim Vondruska