Pablo Serrano poses for a portrait in front of his new mural capturing the spirit of Lakeview Pantry’s work. (All photos by Mateo Zapata for Lakeview Pantry)
Despite the dreary Chicago spring, flowers are blooming in full splendor on a new mural in progress at Lakeview Pantry’s new facility at the corner of West Hubbard Street and North Hermitage Avenue.
The mural is “a tribute to the human spirit that is nourished by (Lakeview Pantry’s) invaluable community service to the city of Chicago and its people,” said Pablo Serrano, the Pilsen artist behind the project.
On a recent overcast morning, Serrano led a group of volunteers in painting the mural. No sunshine, no problem — the vibrant hues brushed onto the west-facing wall lifted the spirits of everyone present. The mural is “a monumental work,” Serrano said, a prominent piece of public art that conveys a powerful message of hope and community.
The vision contains thematic layers — the journey of food from the soil to people in need, the complex challenges of Chicago, the transformative power of community — bound together by bright yellow rays emanating from a yin-and-yang heart and mind at the center.
For volunteers helping with the painting, the mural was a fun and natural extension of the spirit of service that means so much to them.
Cooper Whittlesey and his friend, Robert “Bobby” Beal, painted together — shoulder to shoulder as they often are, five days a week.
“He’s one of my best friends in the world,” Whittlesey said of Beal.
Beal, 37, is autistic nonverbal; Whittlesey, 30, is his personal care assistant. The two volunteer regularly at the Sheridan Market. Beal likes the tactile nature of the work and helping other people; Whittlesey does too.
The mission of Lakeview Pantry also resonates with them.
“I just think with all the economic disparities, people are desperate for resources,” Whittlesey said. “It really is good to get in the thick of helping people. Food is one of the most basic human rights and a lot of people aren’t getting it.”
Anne Blanton, 78, has volunteered with Lakeview Pantry for more than 12 years. Retired from a career in hospital management, Blanton often volunteers at the Sheridan Market, helping people select and receive their food. She values the physical nature of the work and the overarching feeling of community.
And she appreciates the Pantry’s plans to serve more people across the city.
“It’s been a delight to watch how the vision has expanded,” Blanton said.
Nearby, Reinie Gerrits-Goh, 30, painted vivid leafy greens on the wall. She felt a personal connection to the immigrants depicted in the mural, having recently immigrated from the Netherlands. Gerrits-Groh has volunteered for the Pantry while waiting to obtain her green card. It’s been a difficult adjustment, she said, and the bureaucracy has been frustrating.
Volunteering has helped her feel connected to her new city.
“In Chicago, you see a lot of poverty,” Gerrits-Groh said. “And I do get a sense that I’m really helping.”
An artist herself, Lena Tom, 36, meticulously painted a rose on the wall. It’s always been important to her family to help those experiencing food insecurity, she said.
“I really appreciate Lakeview Pantry giving fresh fruits and vegetables to people, and also culturally specific options, which is so important,” Tom said.
Matt Barnes, 64, began regularly volunteering with the Pantry about a year and a half ago after retiring from a career in technology sales.
“You can be part of the problem or part of the solution,” Barnes said, when asked why he volunteers. “It feels good to give back.”