Will County expands micro food pantries in Joliet, elsewhere

Small pantries stocked with food every day during the day and night

Robert Dutton, Equity Manager for Will County Health Department and Community Health Center, assists Scott Hurula, Administrator at The Salvation Army of Joliet, as he cuts the ribbon at the Salvation Army Joliet Corps Community Center micro pantry ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday Mar. 1st, 2024 in Joliet.

The Will County Health Department on Friday opened what was billed as its 60th micro pantry, an outdoor pantry where people in need of food can find something any time during the day or at night.

The pantry opened outside the entrance to the Salvation Army Community Center in Joliet, which already has a weekly drive-up pantry Mondays and takes appointments for people who need to pick up food during the week.

The micro pantry fills another gap, Scott Hurula, The Salvation Army center’s corps administrator, said at a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the pantry.

“With the new pantry, it’s 24/7,” he said.

That’s why the micro pantry was created, said Robert Dutton, health equity manager at the Will County Health Department.

“When the food pantries are not open, we want to make sure that food is available 24/7 at all times for people in underserved communities,” Dutton said.

Robert Dutton, Equity Manager for Will County Health Department and Community Health Center, speaks at the Salvation Army Joliet Corps Community Center micro pantry ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday Mar. 1st, 2024 in Joliet.

The mini pantry has been around for about 10 years, Dutton said.

But demand surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to grow.

It looks like it won’t be long before Will County hits No. 70 in its mini pantry network.

“We are probably in the midst of getting another 10 food pantries in Will County,” Dutton said at the ceremony.

He said he received three calls from interested mini pantry partners Friday alone.

The mini pantry is a modest setup: a windowed cabinet with several shelves containing food and medical supplies available for the taking for whoever needs them.

The pantry at The Salvation Army was stocked with boxed cereal, ramen noodles, crackers, canned green beans, boxed noodle-and-cheese meals and some other items.

Scott Hurula, Administrator at The Salvation Army of Joliet, speaks at the Salvation Army Joliet Corps Community Center micro pantry ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday Mar. 1st, 2024 in Joliet.

It also contained a package of Narcan, a nasal spray used for the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.

When temperatures warm up, COVID-19 test kits are put in the pantries, Dutton said. They can’t be stored outside in cold temperatures, he said.

Micro pantries are located in different towns and an assortment of locations.

In Joliet, they also can be found at the Joliet police station, E-Z Auto Sales and the First Presbyterian Church. Around the county, they can be found at the Plainfield Congregational Church, the Manhattan Police Department, Friendship United Methodist Church in Bolingbrook and the Fossil Ridge Public Library in Braidwood.

A map of locations can be found on the Will County Health Department website.

“We try to be in underserved communities, especially in communities where there is a lack of grocery stores,” Dutton said.

Food for the pantries is donated, most of it coming from ShareFest Will County and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Food is stocked in the micro pantry outside at the Salvation Army Joliet Corps Community Center on Friday Mar. 1st, 2024 in Joliet.

There are occasions where one person takes everything in the pantry, Dutton said. But others bring food, too.

“People bring donations to the pantry sites,” he said.

The host for the micro pantry sees that it is stocked, although the health department also sends people to monitor the sites.

The easy access in which people can come and go on their own time takes away the stigma some people may feel about going to a food pantry, Dutton said.

“No one should feel embarrassed at any time to go to a food pantry because we all need help at some time,” he said.

The Salvation Army Community Center at 300 3rd Ave. is located in a lower-income area of Joliet. It’s also in a section of the city where residents and public officials have talked for years about the need for a grocery store.

Hurula said the Monday food pantry events draw about 170 people. The Salvation Army makes about 25 additional appointments a week for food pantry visits.

“We never turn anybody away who needs food,” Hurula said of The Salvation Army’s food pantry operations that now have three points of access. “Without any stigma, without any judgment, they are welcome to use it.”