Longtime volunteer Anne Blanton gives a fist bump during a recent distribution. All photos by Alyssa Schukar for Nourishing Hope.
Clyde Wright prefers solitude. He lives alone and spends countless by himself on long walks and at the library. He likes to visit Grant Park in the winter, he laughed, because he has it mostly to himself. So, he didn’t mind the isolation of the early pandemic.
“I never missed people because I’m never around them anyway,” Wright said, grinning.
But the retired state employee has had other challenges, such as balancing medical costs with food and rent. Recently, Wright had difficulty affording the co-payment on a necessary medication related to a needed eye surgery. The recent spike in food costs related to inflation hasn’t helped, either. Turning to the Sheridan Market has provided him with a consistent source of nourishment.
And despite his solitary nature, Wright said he takes comfort in the interactions he has with staff and volunteers.
“You guys don’t make us feel lower than a snake’s belly,” Wright said. “You make us feel like human beings. That’s the main thing I like about coming here.”
That’s a common sentiment for those who visit the Sheridan Market. At Nourishing Hope, we strive to serve people with dignity and respect always. Sometimes, it can be difficult for a person to visit a food pantry, particularly for the first time. But smiling eyes above face masks and encouraging fist bumps are commonplace at Sheridan Market. That tone is set in the morning briefing with volunteers before they get to work, and it carries on in interactions throughout the day.
Every person who walks in the door can receive a robust assortment of fresh produce, dairy, meat, groceries — and even flowers. They can also be connected to social services, such as job, housing and utility assistance, and mental health counseling. Nourishing Hope has four full-time mental health therapists who provide free counseling in multiple languages.
Oftentimes, people walking by or visiting for the first time are surprised to learn that Sheridan Market is a food pantry.
“The first time I came here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Amy Kelty, 60. “I thought I was at a grocery store. And everyone here is extremely friendly. It’s almost like an outing.”
Kelty has experienced some dramatic ups and downs in her life recently. Two of her children recently graduated from renowned universities; another is serving prison time on a drug-related charge. Kelty, who has also struggled with drug addiction, suffered a relapse in the spring, an event that she feels was the culmination of negativity in her life and the pressures of the pandemic.
“I live a quiet life, but I just got in a fog,” she said. “I think it was just a struggle.”
Kelty is sober again and about ready to look for another job, she said. In the meanwhile, her faith in God and love of her family gives her hope to keep going through a challenging time.
Those who turn to Sheridan Market for assistance sometimes have complex challenges. Haven Thompson, 21, used their grocery cart as both a vessel in which to take home healthy groceries and as a physical aid while walking. They’re disabled, and walking and standing are challenging.
“Medical care can be horrendous,” said Thompson, who uses they and their pronouns. “Being disabled and immunocompromised makes it a really difficult thing.”
A student at Columbia College Chicago, Thompson works as a sign language interpreter. They live with two roommates, who both receive public assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The groceries they receive from Nourishing Hope give them “more than they’ve ever had.”
“We all come from backgrounds where we didn’t necessarily always have enough food to put on the table,” Thompson said. “Our parents didn’t utilize things like SNAP or benefits like that, so being able to bring home food like this for our household means a lot.”
Tony Dillard also turns to Nourishing Hope for the nutritious food and warm interactions. Dillard, 58, is not able to work, as he struggles with mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. He doesn’t currently receive disability benefits, though he hopes that’s coming soon. He too receives SNAP benefits, but they’re not nearly enough — only $95 a month.
It’s a lot to navigate, Dillard said, but it helps to know that he’s not doing it alone.
“Knowing that places like this are here to give me help — I feel better about myself,” Dillard said. “I feel like everything’s going to be alright.”