Britton Christian Church members Ernestine Thomas and Winifred Owens had a dream of helping neighboring residents who might be having a difficult time feeding their families.
So, in 1991, in a space about the size of a garage, the women and other volunteers opened the BritVil Community Food Pantry.
More than 22 years later, the pantry is a much larger operation in a 5,600-square-foot building at 8717 N Western Ave. And the faces of those who come to the pantry to pick up sacks of groceries to help nourish their families tell a story of the program's success.
“I used to have two jobs and now I have one job,” said a 45-year-old father of three. “I'm not making the money I used to.”
What he and his wife took home that day would be “a little extra food” for his growing family.
The pantry has continued serving its surrounding neighborhood through the years with the help of donations, grants and volunteers.
“Through a series of things, God has very well taken care of the pantry,” said Sue Butler, executive director of the faith-based BritVil Community Food Pantry.
On a recent chilly day, volunteers not far from Butler's office were filling grocery carts with food and wheeling them toward a door so another volunteer could help clients load the new bounty.
The carts were stocked with salad, onions, potatoes and a variety of other produce, as well as juice, a loaf of bread, ham and more. There was even the addition of a treat, whether it was cupcakes or doughnuts.
Volunteer Debbie Gustafson, busy loading paper grocery bags and filling the carts with food and household items, said she felt very blessed and fortunate and wanted to pay it forward.
“It's a privilege to come here and serve people who need help,” said Gustafson, 57, who originally became involved through Britton Christian Church.
During 2013, the BritVil Community Food Pantry served 19,423 people, equating to 6,885 families, said Butler, 62. This is about a 5 percent increase above 2012.
The primary purpose of the pantry is to serve food to families who are in need, Butler said.
“And also to share the love of Christ with everyone that comes through the front door,” she added.
Pantry staffers try to build relationships with those seeking help to determine what their needs are.
“If we can help them with food and that helps them, we've done a good job,” Butler said.