Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

The Friendship Center pantry serves food and dignity this holiday season

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 10:43 AM

By Ryan Morton

Founded in 1969, The Friendship Center has reimagined the food pantry experience for many Chicago residents. Thanks to a partnership award from the NorthShore Community Investment Fund, the nonprofit has invested in renovating its facility into a welcoming grocery store-like space stocked with fresh, wholesome foods, expanding its food-rescue program, and offering connections to social services and other resources.

Today, neighbors facing hunger can drop by the pantry to pick up everything from daily staples and pet food to a holiday turkey. “We applied to the Community Investment Fund with the vision of reimagining the space” to serve more folks, says Executive Director Justin Block. The center serves Chicago’s northwest-side neighborhoods like Albany Park, Lincoln Square, North Park, Ravenswood, and West Ridge.

This Thanksgiving, The Friendship Center is supporting 350 families with groceries to make holiday meals. These dinners include a whole turkey, ham or — as supplies run low —chicken, as well as the traditional sides. The pantry also plans to offer festive events throughout the season, including special hot meals and food delivery themed to the holidays.

Friendship Center

Block has worked in the food nonprofit space for more 15 years, inspired by an early experience when he was a cook between high school and college. He recalls being surprised that many of his restaurant coworkers had to take second and third jobs to make ends meet. This inspired him to dedicate himself to feeding people experiencing food insecurity and helping make life a bit easier for those in need.

Under his watch, The Friendship Center has seen a two-fold increase in people coming through its doors since the pandemic. Despite the uptick in clients, the center has prioritized continuing to make the experience of visiting the pantry feel personalized and caring. “There’s nothing more efficient to do than just hand somebody a box of food as soon as they walk in the door, right?” Block says. “But it's not really engaging.”

Instead, The Friendship Center welcomes those it serves with a bright, airy space where “shoppers” can choose the foods they like and feel connected to, often reflecting their culture.

To handle the increase in demand, Block says that The Friendship Center team is actively exploring options to scale their model. Ideas range from expanding its current location and partnering with other nonprofits to create a community hub, to building a second pantry. Block says he and The Friendship Center team are excited about the opportunity to care for more neighbors across Chicago.

Besides nourishment, the center also provides its community with connections to social services and programs. These include access to healthcare, public benefits, assistance with utilities and rent support, and more.

If you would like to support The Friendship Center’s mission this holiday season, Block advises that the most helpful contribution is your time or a financial gift. “We can provide almost eight meals for someone with just $1 dollar,” he says.

Learn how to volunteer at The Friendship Center or get information on how to support the pantry.

At NorthShore University HealthSystem, we believe that to truly care for the communities we serve, we must have clear understanding of community health needs and get involved in our communities. The Community Investment Fund is one of many ways in which we seek to engage locally and provide community-connected care. Learn more.