No one expected the Richmond-Spring Grove Community Food Pantry to quietly approach the 30-year mark, or last this long as a nonprofit agency helping families and individuals with food and essential items needed to live.
Established in 1990, the group eventually moved into the basement of the century-old Memorial Hall in Richmond for its base of operations, three years later.
The number of people who have come through its doors over the years seeking assistance is staggering and attests to the fundamental services, which the agency provides. In 2015, they were able to obtain larger quarters at 5512 May St. in Richmond. Although the demographic of the individuals has changed, the need for assistance has only grown.
“The big shift, and change, is that this is the first time we’ve had so many senior citizens … half of our clientele is now made up of senior citizens, and we serve 157 people,” said Char Kania. “These individuals are going through hard times, and they truly appreciate the help that we can provide. I always tell the girls volunteering at the pantry … there is no such thing as a poor person, only an individual having a hard time.
“Remember, something could happen, and we’re only one day away from having to need them ourselves,” she said. “The clients are like family to me. I had clients go out of their way to call, or send a card, and say how much they appreciated the recent Thanksgiving baskets that we gave away to them. Thirty-five years ago, I was in the same boat.”
Char Kania, the pantry’s executive director, and her husband, Ken, have been with the agency almost as long as its length of operation. Ken has since retired from daily duties and stocking chores, due to health reasons. Char maintains the food pantry was fortunate in its early days that many of Ken’s former co-workers at the Scot Forge plant in Spring Grove helped provide volunteer assistance. There are 12 volunteers currently at the agency.
While the pantry’s work began modestly, the clientele list had grown to 120 people by 2013, because of the worsening economy. The application process for assistance has remained the same: Families requesting assistance, from the surrounding areas of Richmond and Spring Grove, complete an application after furnishing a referral letter from a church, or the McHenry Health Department. A list is also compiled of items for their nutritional exigency, as if shopping in a store.
Irregular bin drop-offs by individuals making donations of nonperishable items are helpful, but maintaining consistent levels of stock inventory for distribution is difficult.
Donations and help have come through various public and private organizations including local churches, manufacturing companies such as Jan Air, Inc. in Richmond, and Intermatic Corporation in Spring Grove, as well as the Richmond-Spring Grove Area Rotary Club.
“The Kanias are wonderful people, dedicated and selfless, so it goes without saying that the food pantry continues because of them,” said Larry Jones, the Rotary Club’s co-secretary. “Right now, they are focusing on putting Christmas baskets together for distribution during the holiday season. The Rotary Club has always enjoyed helping their efforts and supporting the work being done at the pantry.”
Char Kania had said that keeping all the nutritious items available is the key, as young children and families have no other sources.
“We adopt families for Christmas, and try to make sure they get underwear, toiletries, essentials … and the toys, the ones we can give out come from the ‘Toys for Tots’ program,” she said. “It’s truly a gift to be able to help children, and when the kids come in, the first thing they do is give a great big hug.
“The reward, I think, is being able to help as many people as we can. The food pantry is approaching 30 years old. I was 30 years old when we started volunteering at places … I’m 77, and still going. I just enjoy it. And the secret is that I enjoy people.”
The food pantry can be contacted, by calling 815-678-4351. Drop-off sites are located at 5512 May St., and the Richmond Township Offices at 7812 S. Route 31, both in Richmond.