‘Little Free Pantry,’ other ideas helping to fill needs, stomachs at Sophia’s Kitchen

Claire Crone, director of Sophia's Kitchen in Peoria, restocks the new Little Free Pantry. People may take what they need at any time. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Providing a sack lunch and beverages five days a week isn’t enough at Sophia’s Kitchen in Peoria. Claire Crone director, said it is important to serve people in the way they need, not in the way that works best for the sandwich program.

A survey of the patrons taken in June gave the staff and volunteers at Sophia’s Kitchen a better idea of how to do that, she said.

“One of the things that had been mentioned several times was often things are more difficult on the weekends,” she said. “We don’t have the ability to become a 24/7 facility for a lot of different reasons.”

They addressed the issue by establishing a Little Free Pantry beside the main doors of Sophia’s Kitchen, which is located in the parish hall of St. Joseph Church, 103 Richard Pryor Place. It is stocked as needed with nutritionally dense foods such as Nutri-Grain bars, nuts, nut butters, cans of soup, fruit, applesauce, and pouches of tuna.

“They can come and get whatever they want, whenever they want,” Crone said.

She acknowledged that some people have been concerned that people would clean out the cabinet, leaving the most vulnerable hungry. That has not been the case, however. In fact, parishioners stop by and make certain the pantry is stocked, she said.

“They are being absolutely beautiful about that,” Crone told The Catholic Post. “I’ll be here after hours and see people pull up, get out and shove stuff into it.”

Signs are also posted that ask people to remember that these items are for people who are facing an emergency.

“We have found people are very gracious about that,” according to Crone. “They’re taking exactly what they need and they’re always leaving a little bit more for someone else.”

She said they try to stock pre-wrapped silverware — the kind you might find at fast food restaurants. That way people have a fork or a spoon if they need it.

Over the winter months, new gloves and socks would be a welcome addition, she said.

FOOD PANTRIES, CHRISTMAS BASKETS

While the Little Free Pantry may tide someone over for an evening or a weekend, a food pantry organized by Sister Merlinda Marco, FAS, helps people get through the end of the month.

“Our donations are so fantastic right now that we have more than enough food to give everyone — God provides in such a beautiful way,” Crone said.

The food pantry is offered on the last Friday of the month, starting at 1 p.m. In October, it provided for the needs of 104 families.

“God provides in such a beautiful way,” said Clare Crone, director of Sophia’s Kitchen in Peoria. 

Sophia’s Kitchen has also started a pet food pantry on the last Wednesday of the month, to help patrons feed the dogs, cats and rabbits that provide so much comfort. Distribution of the donated food, toys and cat litter begins at 10 a.m.

“A lot of these people are single. They have no one else in the world,” Crone said. “A lot of them have been traumatized by events in their lives and a pet is the most compassionate, nonjudgmental thing that they have and receive love from.”

She said they often go without eating themselves to give food to their pets or will ask for an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich because their dog is hungry.

Looking ahead to the holidays, Crone said Sophia’s Kitchen will take names on Monday, Nov. 20, and Tuesday, Nov. 21, for those in need of a Christmas food basket. They anticipate that about 600 people will request assistance.

The baskets or bags will be packed on Saturday, Dec. 16, starting promptly at 9 a.m. Anyone who wishes to help is welcome.

It usually takes about an hour to fill the baskets. Volunteers will deliver them later in the morning.

The remaining baskets may be picked up by patrons on Dec. 18-19.

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