Crystal Lake Food Pantry finds new home

Adela Crandell Durkee for Chronicle Media

Client Entrance to the Crystal Lake Food Pantry. (Photo by Adela Crandell Durkee/for Chronicle Media)

On March 5, Crystal Lake Food Pantry, 42 East St., invited the public to visit its new site. Volunteers like Danielle Morlock, board member from Willow Creek, and John Verchota an individual partner, escorted visitors and explained the system for distributing food to people who experience food insecurity.

The 30,000-square-foot Food Pantry has areas for receiving, warehousing, cleaning, and displaying food. The site lies along a PACE bus line and within walking distance to a train station.

Food collected through the annual Thanksgiving Day Community Harvest collection is stored in the warehouse. Volunteers plan to use the location as a collection center for the 2017 food drive.

Fresh food area. (Photo by Adela Crandell Durkee/for Chronicle Media)

“The goal is to serve all of McHenry County as a hub for the other food pantries,” said Marguerite Grealish, a board member from Resurrection Catholic Church. This enables all the county food pantries to purchase more efficiently and to have dry, cold, and freezer storage area.

The Food Recovery Act of 2015, intended to decrease food waste, allows for tax deductions for donations of food inventory by restaurants, donations by retail food stores, and provides funds to cover the Emergency Food Assistance Program. All the Crystal Lake grocery stores contribute to the Food Pantry. Some local restaurants also donate food. One local restaurant donates 100 pounds of pasta to the Food Pantry each month.

Color coding to help clients shop based on family size. (Photo by Adela Crandell Durkee/for Chronicle Media)

The Food Pantry serves the hungry of Crystal Lake. “Anyone in School District 47 or 155 is eligible,” according to Morlock. Although many organizations and business support the Food Pantry, it is run solely by the 20 churches that make up the board.

Potential clients meet with volunteers in the welcome area. Each client receives food, by weight, based on family size. Each client may visit two times each month. To make shopping easy, a shopper gets a color-coded card, that corresponds to a color tag on the grocery shelf. For example, a family of four gets a red card; the meat counter indicates how many packages of meat a red-card shopper may choose.

A prepping area helps reduce waste through reclaiming and repackaging produce and eggs. In the past, if one egg in a carton cracked, the whole dozen got discarded. Now the eggs can be inspected and cleaned and the undamaged ones salvaged. Food Pantry representatives hope that will greatly reduce the amount of food waste.

Grealish is quick to point out that most of the Food Pantry clients are working and trying to make ends meet.

“It must be so hard to walk through the doors and be recognized as someone who can’t adequately provide for their family,” said Grealish.

Kitchen area where volunteers teach clients about nutrition and how to prepare some of the foods available. (Photo by Adela Crandell Durkee/for Chronicle Media)

Children make up 37 percent of the clients served by the Food Bank. According to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, in the 13 counties it serves, 77 percent of households had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past 12 months, 62 percent had to choose between paying for food and housing. One-in-seven families in Northern Illinois rely on Northern Illinois Food Bank and its network.

Another way the Food Pantry hopes to limit waste and better serve its clients is with the Demonstration Kitchen. Volunteers show clients how to prepare foods that may be seasonal or perhaps unfamiliar to the clients. Heartland donated countertops for the Demonstration Kitchen and Gulgren Appliance donated the appliances. Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore donated the cabinets.

Besides serving the grocery needs of food scarcity, the Food Pantry makes office spaces available to other service organizations. The Empowerment Center provides health screenings by Centegra, tax services, and legal advice for those in need. Local organizations and businesses donated the furniture and carpet for the Empowerment Center and Volunteer Lounge.

According to Verchota, many of the volunteers began their mission over 20 years ago. Volunteer opportunities include: Welcoming, assisting clients, stocking shelves, driving for food rescue, stocking the warehouse and shelves, demonstrating food preparation, and being checkout clerks. Group volunteer opportunities can also be arranged.

For more information call (815) 455-0961 or visit