For the past dozen years, a group of River Forest and Oak Park residents have teamed up with people of Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood to feed hungry people in that area.

This uncommon partnership began when James Brooks, the African-American pastor of Harmony Community Church, took up his new pastoral calling in North Lawndale after 10 years as youth ministry coordinator at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.

His years at Grace made a lasting impact on people like Diane Carioscio of River Forest, who began volunteering at the Harmony Food Pantry eight years ago when she learned of people living just 6 miles away who live with hunger as a daily reality.

At Harmony every Wednesday morning beginning around 7 a.m., lines of people begin forming outside the church building.

Carioscio and other volunteers, half from Grace and half from Harmony, arrive at 6:30. They fill sacks and boxes with canned goods, bread, dessert, meat, dairy, and fresh fruit for the distribution process, which takes place from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m., and 250 people receive the food parcels, which they’ve been waiting several hours for, two people per minute. Their names have been registered on a computerized list certifying that they are below a certain income level and thus are qualified to receive food parcels twice a month.

The food is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository at a value of $900,000 during 2017. Other businesses also provide funding.

Another River Forest resident, Sue Foran, organized a recent event that brought people from North Lawndale together with residents of Oak Park and River Forest — the fourth annual gala celebrating the Grace-Harmony connection. Almost 200 people from the two congregations joined for supper at Grace Church, fostering friendships and mutual respect among people who otherwise have little or no opportunity to meet and work together.

James Brooks spoke movingly that evening of the power of people of faith in North Lawndale who face crime and violence daily but live purposeful lives, rarely made known in the media. Following his challenging words, Grace parishioner and Oak Park resident Chris Koetke led a live auction on a wide variety of items donated by friends of the Harmony ministry.

The financial goal was to raise $100,000 to renovate the interior of the Harmony Church building to make it a safer and more adequate space for daily use by children and adults of North Lawndale, to expand the educational ministry of the congregation as well as sustaining the Food Pantry year around.

The total raised for Harmony that evening was $250,000.

Grace Lutheran is not the only River Forest congregation working in food pantry partnership with a Chicago congregation. St. Luke Catholic Church is similarly associated. First United Church in Oak Park has also been an active site of food distribution for years.

My apologies for overlooking other congregations or local individuals who work to aid fellow human beings, young and old, near and far, who live with the blight of hunger.

There is room for all who want to know more and do more.

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Dean Lueking, a resident of River Forest, is pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church. 

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