Rebranded food pantry partnership between Nourishing Hope and La Casa Norte connects people to food and social services amid challenging time for many Chicago families

Nourishing Hope’s hunger relief partnership with La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park is now called El Mercadito.

Formerly known as the Fresh Market, the partnership has been renamed to El Mercadito to better reflect and appeal to the predominantly Latino population that it serves in Humboldt Park. Housed within La Casa Norte, at 3533 W. North Ave., the food pantry opened in 2019 as a collaboration built upon the mutual belief that basic human needs must be met before the cycle of poverty can be broken.

Service levels at El Mercadito have grown significantly in the past year — a combination of increased need due to inflation and greater community awareness of the resource. So far this fiscal year, which began April 1, visits to El Mercadito have more than doubled compared to the same period last year — from 2,755 visits to nearly 7,000.

“Many of our staff, volunteers and people turning to us for help were already calling it El Mercadito, so we’re making it official,” said Kellie O’Connell, CEO of Nourishing Hope. “We’re hoping to send a clear message to folks — this is your place for food and hope. We’re proud to serve this community in partnership with La Casa Norte.”

In addition to food, Nourishing Hope staff connect people to mental health counseling and social services at El Mercadito. Under the same roof, La Casa Norte provides comprehensive housing services focused on unaccompanied youth, in a robust effort to prevent homelessness. Howard Brown Health also operates a full-service health center inside the facility.

It’s effectively a one-stop shop for people facing complex and often interwoven difficulties.“At La Casa Norte, we seek to provide comprehensive services to transform lives and uplift communities,” said Jose M. Muñoz, executive director of La Casa Norte. “Our partnership with Nourishing Hope helps put food on the table for thousands of people each month.”

September is Hunger Action Month, a time to raise awareness and spur action toward ending food insecurity. That’s particularly relevant this year, as soaring food prices related to inflation have caused hardship for countless American families.

Grocery prices rose 13.5 percent in the 12-month period ending August 2022 — the largest increase since 1979, according to the latest inflation report released this week from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

El Mercadito, which offers a monthly choice option and weekly produce pickup, is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“What makes it special to come into El Mercadito is that connection we make every single time someone comes through our doors,” Omar Roman, pantry coordinator at El Mercadito. “It’s not just about food, sometimes just the interaction and having them smile at times when they need it most — that’s what makes the day more special.”

Those visiting El Mercadito will continue to be eligible for Nourishing Hope’s comprehensive social services, including public benefits assistance, job search training, information and referral services, and free mental wellness counseling.

Staff at this location and across both organizations are looking forward to strengthening this partnership and continuing to serve the heightened needs of those living in Humboldt Park and across the city of Chicago.