In the summer of 1995, the Westchester Food Pantry came into existence. It was started by a local resident Judy Saraceno Swenson, who operated the Pantry out of her garage, helping neighbors in need of food assistance.
After a few years, she was able to move the Pantry to a Village of Westchester Public Works’ building. This is where volunteers battled the elements as they packed bags for neighbors in need. Eventually, the Pantry moved inside the Westchester Village Hall. It had a very small footprint, served very few clients and volunteering was sparse. Clients randomly picked up a few bags of groceries being assisted by Village employees.
In 2015, Amanda Grant approached Judy and others about volunteering for the Pantry. At that time, Judy was ready to move on to other endeavors. Amanda was joined by Kathleen Franzwa and a few months later Carol Kratky Harvey, and they created a new path for the Pantry. They defined a service area and reformed the organization as a client choice Pantry that would be open one Saturday each month. More clients started to come for food, and more community residents began to volunteer.
Two large changes came in 2016: the Pantry became an official 501c3 organization and a member agency of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
These two milestones fast tracked the Pantry’s growth. It’s footprint in the Westchester Village Hall increased, the number of clients began to grow even more, along with the number of volunteers. In addition, a Board was created and dedicated volunteer staff began to further materialize. At this point, Jim Gabel took over all back office requirements of operating the business side of the Pantry. The Pantry opened up to its clients one day per week.
In April 2018, the Pantry was recognized by the President and the Cook County Board of Commissioners for its commitment to meeting the needs of hungry families in Cook County, and acknowledged the Pantry as being a fast growing pantry in the western suburbs. The Village Free Press recognized the Pantry as one of its 2020 People of the Year recipients. In March 2023, the Westchester Chamber of Commerce, at it’s annual “Celebrate Westchester” event, awarded the Pantry with the Village Image Award.
In November 2020, the Pantry purchased a 3,800 square foot building in Westchester, where it currently resides.
This was needed to meet the growing need of the Pantry’s services in the communities it serves. After the extensive building renovations, overseen by Jim Gabel, the Pantry began servicing clients at the new location in June 2021. Having its own building also allowed the Pantry to be open two days per week and to provide more nutritious groceries to its clients.
Since early 2016, the number of clients has steadily increased to where the Pantry is now serving over 400 clients households per month. In order to meet the growing food needs of its clients, besides getting Greater Chicago Food Depository deliveries twice a month, each month the Pantry does over 50 food rescues from various food establishments/grocery stores, along with many food drop-offs and numerous community food drives taking place throughout the year.
All this could not be done without the hundreds of volunteers, the dedicated volunteer staff, the generosity of its many donors and the support of the community. The Pantry continues to be entirely volunteer-run and is making a difference in our community.