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Edgewater’s Care For Real Food Pantry Gets Makeover

Photo UKANDU Facebook

Photo: UKANDU Facebook

Clients and visitors to Edgewater’s Care for Real will likely notice some positive changes at the facility this week thanks to a mission group’s efforts to paint, move inventory and wax floors last week.

UKANDU Chicago offered its assistance at no cost to the non-profit because it wanted to be a blessing, Pete Imlah said he told a staff member of Care for Real when visiting the facility this past winter. “We want to bring hope and encouragement.”

Imlah is the president of UKANDU Missions Inc. and the associate pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lombard, Illinois. UKANDU started its efforts 13 years ago by working with Lutheran churches and schools. The organization has now expanded its community service work to community members’ homes, vacation bible schools, non-profit organizations, street evangelism, and sports camps.

This year, a total of 287 high school youth and adults from churches in Nebraska, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota spent one week on various projects including painting, construction, landscaping and more in Chicago. They worked at just under 50 locations throughout the city, Imlah said.

Eleven of those youths and adults volunteered their time and efforts at Care for Real. Established in 1970, the non-profit organization located at 5339 N. Sheridan Road provides food, clothing and counseling services to those in need. It does this through on-site food distribution, deliveries to the homebound, a free clothes closet, and a case-management program to help clients connect with other services they may need, Care for Real’s website said.

“It’s just a great, great group,” Dzana Huseni, director of operations and case manager for Care for Real, said of UKANDU last week. She said the UKANDU volunteers performed tasks that the Care for Real staff members aren’t able to accomplish on their own.

That help goes a long way for Care for Real, which by the close of 2015 will have provided services to roughly 90,000 people. That’s a 15 percent increase over 2014 and significantly higher than the 10,000 people the non-profit assisted in just 2007, according to Lyle Allen, the non-profit’s executive director.

“Clients are treated with dignity and respect and you can feel that collective spirit on a busy food distribution day where 30 volunteers will often help out throughout the day (some as often as five times a week),” he said. “We’re a family here.”

Like all families, meanwhile, Care for Real understands the importance of long-range planning. The organization will be embarking on a three-year strategic plan this fall. Allen said Care for Real continues to experience an increase in need for its programs and services and wants to be sure it provides the highest level of service for those who ask it for help.

“You have to stay focused on every area and at all times: fundraising; operations; marketing and communications; staff, volunteer and board development; budgets and finances; client need and requests — and that’s just a partial list,” he said.

“As our senior population grows significantly, and (because of) the potential high level of need this demographic represents, we are looking at options now to ensure we can help these folks by providing deliveries to the homebound,” Allen said. “In order to make that happen, we are seeking funds to help with the purchase of a refrigerator/freezer van.”

Funding, however, remains Care for Real’s biggest challenge. It counts on financial support to make ends meet. So far, it has been able to keep up with the rise in need, distributing more than 100,000 pounds of food each month and providing more than 1.2 million meals each year.

“We’re also proud of the food we distribute,” Allen said. “We believe it’s not only important to fill bellies but (to) offer more nutritional options for our clients (the majority being seniors and families with children under the age of 18).”

Current donors include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi Foods, Mariano’s, True Nature Foods, Urban Orchard, Peterson Garden Project, Swedish Bakery, European Imports, and Fortune Fish and Gourmet. Many local farmers also donate fresh, locally grown produce, and this helps Care for Real’s clients eat better and live healthier lifestyles. The non-profit currently runs two pantry vans, seven days a week, picking up these donations.

“The level of community support (for) Care for Real is amazing — and so inspiring,” Allen said. “While food and clothing drives and donations play a critical role in our operations, we truly need financial support more than anything. Supporters can visit our website to make a donation online. Every dollar counts and goes a very long way at Care for Real.”

“I’m honored to have the chance to lead Care for Real,” Allen said. “Every day, I feel good knowing that I’ve truly made a difference in someone’s life. I encourage everyone to reach out to me for a personal tour of our facility on a busy day.  I think, you, too, will find it an inspiring experience.”


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