Parish Pantry Feeds Stomachs and Souls
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
May 4, 2023
AURORA—“I have a front row seat to watching God work,” says Jill Orr, co-coordinator of the Holy Angels Food Pantry in Aurora. “Every week He’s doing something new.”
Much is new these days at the 51-year-old pantry, which began in February 1972 in the parish rectory. For decades, it’s been housed in an older house on the parish campus across from Holy Angels School. 
A variety of issues have been and are being addressed now with the help of grants from the Dunham Foundation (basement remodeling), from Home Depot (electric work, painting, new countertops), and from the Northern Illinois Food Bank (to update equipment such as the freezer, forklift and shelving). Holy Angels Parish Knights of Columbus have been redoing some of the landscaping, Orr says, noting last summer’s first attempt at a produce garden was a “real exciting change.”
One parishioner does drywall work, and he and other Knights have donated their time to redo walls and ceilings in the building. Another parishioner has volunteered to redo the woodwork. A Catholic school is busy starting seeds for the garden, while other schools have assembled children-decorated “birthday bags” complete with cake mix, frosting, candles and more to help food pantry patrons celebrate family birthdays. 
The parish’s Bellarmine Ladies hold an annual baby supply drive, which is “really helpful,” Orr says. The parish also holds a monthly toiletries collection for the pantry.
In addition, the food pantry has “a base of about 50 volunteers,” Orr says, including some who have helped at the pantry for several decades. Most come from the parish, she says, but notes that others come from the community and one volunteer couple comes from Naperville.
The pantry is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and each day has its own group of volunteers along with Orr and her co-coordinator, Christa Renshaw, who each are present for two of the days, 10 hours total for each of them.
“It’s kind of like being with family,” says Renshaw about her work. “I do the food ordering and odds and ends. Jill did a lot of the grant writing.” She adds that she calls herself the “fill in the blanks” person.
“Everyone is really good about going the extra mile,” Orr says, adding that volunteers “see what needs to be done, and they do it … I like to say ‘We make Christ visible’ to people (and) each other. Everybody (at the pantry) has a servant’s heart.”
Renshaw notes that the average age of the weekly volunteers is 86. “They would really love to see this (pantry volunteer work) passed on to younger people, including newly-retired people … anyone I’ve gotten to come says it is so much fun — and it really is.” Potential volunteers are welcome, even if they can only commit to one hour a week, she says.
Previously, the pantry provided pre-packed bags of food, but since October 2021, clients are invited in to shop for themselves. In 2021, about 100 families participated; that has more than doubled. Renshaw estimates between 220-250 people now come.
“We do see a lot of elderly and people with disabilities,” she says. “More recently, with inflation, we have families who are busy working but who have a hard time making ends meet. Some we have not seen for five years are coming back now … we may get 5-10 new families in one day.”
The clients start at the house to check in and shop for dry goods. They then get a ticket to go out to the garage to receive meat and other things, Orr explains.
“We are one of the small pantries, but we are mighty,” Orr says, noting the pantry “has more of a personal touch. We know our clients … if someone is having surgery, we put them on our prayer list. So I think they know they can approach us — they are not just a stranger to us.”
Renshaw agrees. “Volunteers are very kind and friendly and open. We want people to be comfortable.”
We give them, she adds, “a grocery shopping experience.”
Orr lists “good grants” for food from entities such as the Compassion Foundation, Kane County, and Hollywood Casino. She mentions an option at the Northern Illinois Food Bank for a weekly trip for “extras” such as toiletries, seasonal items, maybe batteries or laundry detergent — “a mish mash of stuff” that “gives our clients more choices, and it helps their budgets.”
Going there, she adds, “is like Christmas every week. I don’t know what I’ll find. We pay one cent per pound. I’ll bring back 800 or 1,000 pounds of stuff. It’s a win/win.”
Orr is hoping the major renovations at the pantry will be done by the end of May, with “little touches” continuing. “At the end of summer, we hope to have an open house to invite people to come and see what God has done,” she says. “God loves this little pantry and has provided abundantly for it. I couldn’t ask for a better boss.”
Renshaw reflects on the rewards of this part-time position that she began early last year.
“I love what I do,” she says. “I have two other jobs — this is the one that fills my soul.”
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