Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry in the running for $4M grant to fund new larger location

The pantry is one of 15 projects nominated by U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood for a Community Project Funding grant

Eileen Pasero, executive director of the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and Clothes Closet, gathers non-perishable items for a client's monthly pick-up at the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry.

The Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and Clothes Closet could receive a multimillion dollar grant to construct a new space if approved for a federal Community Project Funding grant. U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, nominated the pantry for a grant.

Community Project Funding allows members of Congress to request funding for specific projects that benefit the communities they represent, according to Underwood’s website.

According to a news release from Underwood’s office, the food pantry was one of 15 projects throughout Illinois’ 14th District to be nominated to receive a fiscal 2023 grant. Representatives can request funding for community projects once every fiscal year.

If approved by Congress, the pantry would be awarded $4 million that would be used to build a larger new facility, according to the release.

“This funding would allow the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry and Clothes Closet, a nonprofit that’s served the community for 40 years, to relocate to a larger space better fit to serve the growing need,” according to Underwood’s website. “Currently, the facility is located in a 3,000-square-foot building with very little room for storage, refrigeration or display of items. Almost all of their storage is located at an off-site facility, requiring added staff to volunteer hours to transport items between locations. Only 25% of the Clothes Closet inventory can be displayed at any time. The current location also has limited cold storage, restricting the healthier fresh foods that they can offer to their clients. A new 20,000-square-foot building will enable them to meet their current and future needs.”

“One of the aspects that gave this project a priority is because it addresses the basic needs of people who are in crisis situations within our community,” Batavia City Administrator Laura Newman said.

Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry Executive Director Eileen Pasero said Newman contacted her about writing a proposal for a potential grant in early April.

“[Newman] was the one who brought it to me and said, ‘This is an opportunity for us to find some potential funding,’” Pasero said. “She said, ‘I’m really sorry to do this to you, but it’s a tight timeframe. We would have to get it done this week.’ She and I kind of dropped everything and we wrote the proposal together.”

Pasero said the funding will be used to either build or purchase a new 20,000-square-foot facility for the pantry.

“That will enable us to increase our shopping spaces considerably,” she said. “We have some clients that have limited mobility and are either in wheelchairs or have walkers. It’s very difficult for them to maneuver, particularly on the Clothes Closet side.”

Newman said the food pantry was allowed to submit letters endorsing the project along with their grant application.

“I’m so grateful for how many members of our community and our other elected officials took the time to write letters of support,” she said. “We ended up with 106 letters of support, including our state representatives, senators and aldermen.”

There are about 600 families registered to use the Clothes Closet and food pantry, Pasero said.

“We have very limited storage space in our current facility and we have no capability to add anymore,” she said. “One of the things we were looking for in a new facility was the ability to have more refrigeration space and freezer space because that enables us to offer healthier options to clients.”

Pasero said the pantry’s Clothes Closet can only display a fraction of its inventory.

“The majority of our Clothes Closet storage is actually at an off-site storage warehouse that the Batavia United Methodist Church has been providing to us rent-free,” she said. “That also means a lot of time for our volunteers and staff going back and forth between the off-site warehouse and here so that we always have items available for clients to shop through.”

Pasero is the only full-time employee at the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry, which also employs five part-time staff members, she said.

“We have approximately 250 to 300 volunteers,” she said. “It used to be about 600 pre-pandemic. And then during the pandemic we were reduced to a very small group of people.

“That would also enable us to help provide storage for the Access Toy Drive, which is another not for profit in Batavia that helps families. They have to move every year because they don’t actually have a space.”

If the grant is approved, Pasero said the pantry will either use an existing space or build a space for the new location.

“Congress will be voting on it in late fall, and we’ll know if it’s finally approved the beginning of 2023,” Newman said. “We are so grateful. They have had this need for the additional space for many years now. If this ends up being approved by Congress, cross our fingers, then this money will surely make it happen.”