Hungry holidays for the poor?

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Area pantries feeling crunch as more ‘desperate’ people seek food

  A crowd of people gathered on ap1-3-col-colorHerb Mohn of Palos Heights unwraps some canned goods recently at Elsie Pantry, a joint ministry of Moraine Valley Community Church and Savior Divine Lutheran Church. Photo by Bob Rakow. recent Thursday afternoon outside the back entrance of Savior Divine Lutheran Church in Palos Hills waiting for Elsie’s Pantry to open.

  Inside, a team of volunteers hurriedly placed donated food—bread, bags of salad, frozen meat and dairy products—on tables, while others filled boxes with canned and dry goods stored on rows of metal shelves.
  The food pantry wasn’t forced to turn anyone away, but director Beth Heinrich is concerned about the future.
  “Right now, my shelves are bare,” Heinrich said. “We broke a record last month. The canned goods are really low.”
  Heinrich is not alone. As the holiday season approaches, food pantries throughout the region are working harder than ever to meet the needs of a growing client base and looking to donations to fill the void.
  Elsie’s Pantry, a joint ministry of Savior Divine Lutheran Church and Moraine Valley Church, served nearly 600 clients in October, a significant jump from the 350 to 400 individuals who are typically helped on a monthly basis, Heinrich said.
  The pantry receives some of its supplies from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which distributes donated and purchased food to a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters throughout Cook County. But Elsie’s also relies on private donations and monetary contributions to serve clients.
jump-3-colBob Shields of Palos Park removes a case of food from the shelves at Elsie’s Pantry in Palos Hills. The pantry relies on food and monetary contributions to serve needy families throughout the area. Photo by Bob Rakow.  Moments before the pantry opens, volunteers form a circle, join hands and pray for the people they serve as well as the success of their mission. When the doors open, clients take their seats and wait patiently until their numbers are called. Some are regulars who make small talk with volunteers and other clients. Newcomers, meanwhile, check in at the front desk and present identification to prove they live in one of the communities served by the pantry.
  The pantry, located at 10040 S. 88th Ave., is open from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and serves nearly 41,000 residents from Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Hickory Hills, Willow Springs and Orland Park.
  In addition to helping meet nutritional needs, the pantry offers blood pressure screenings on the first Thursday of the month and nutrition workshops from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the fourth Thursday. A pet pantry provides food for clients’ dogs and cats.
  Donations can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The pantry is always in need of canned goods, cereal and pasta, Heinrich said.
  Elsie’s Pantry is not the only one in the southwest suburbs fighting to meet the basic nutritional needs of a growing number people who need some help making ends meet.
  “We get a lot of new clients,” said Sue Coffey, secretary at Worth United Methodist Church, which operates a food pantry. “They are having a hard time.”
  Like Elsie’s Pantry, Worth United Methodist Church looks to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and private donations to keep the shelves stocked. The pantry also counts on food drives sponsored by schools and local organizations as well as contributions from its congregation.
  The pantry, 7100 W. 112th St., is open from 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Clients can visit twice a month and receive a selection of meat, canned and dry goods as well as dairy products, including milk, butter, yogurt and cheese.
  Donations can be made when the pantry is open. Organizations with large amounts of food can contract the church at 708-448-6682 to arrange a pick up. The pantry is always in need of non-perishable items such as cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta, instant potatoes, ramen noodle packages, soup (dried or canned), cake mixes and vegetables.
  The pantry serves a wide area bounded by 79th and 135th streets, Cicero Avenue and LaGrange Road. It will provide food to people who live outside that area on a one-time basis, Coffey said.
  “People are desperate,” Coffey said, adding that unemployment and a recent decrease in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are two of the primary reasons why more people are turning to food pantries for help.
  “There are people who are homeless who come in,” she said. “We try to do what we can.”
  Teresa Rodriguez, southwest regional director for Catholic Charities, said food panties have become more important than ever as the need increases and smaller pantries close their doors.
  “(Clients) are really stretching every single dollar,” she said. “There’s always a need. “We are talking about basic items.”
  Catholic Charities, which has an office in Worth, operates a food pantry at St. Blasé Church in Summit, which serves surrounding communities. The church also provides a hot meal at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
  The pantry has seen the number of families served jump from 650 to more than 1,000 over the past few months, Rodriguez said.
  “It’s frightening,” she said. They’re the working poor.”
  Unemployment, a decrease in work hours or a family illness often lead people who’ve never before visited a food pantry to take advantage of their services.
  “They’ll say, ‘I never envisioned myself in a food pantry,’” Rodriguez said.

  She added that clients are extremely thankful for whatever the pantry can provide.
  “Ninety-nine percent will take what they need,” she said. “They feel welcome. They’re made to feel important.”

  The pantry is open Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 1 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. It provides one package per month that includes canned goods, dried goods and frozen meat. In addition, clients can come to the pantry each day it is open for food that is donated by local grocers, restaurants and bakeries.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Cowardly Blog needs to man (or woman) up and show yourself

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


jeff column Anonymity is the coward’s best pal.
  I learned that one a long time ago in this business.
  From people making wild accusations but not wantingDOUBLE-RUN-page3-2-COL-jvcolTemperatures in the single digits didn’t stop this dude on the Naperville Central chain gang from breaking out the shorts and showing his legs. Photo by Jeff Vorva. to go on the record to voice mail to the comments that are on the bottom of online stories, the cowards have had various platforms to vent their spleen without being seen.
  And of course, there are the bloggers.
  These waterlogged weblogs have popped up like pimples over the last decade or so and are full of anonymous voices spewing out garbage with no accountability or consequences.
  Locally, there is a blog that is serving the Oak Lawn community claims to be the “newest and most exciting news source” that has mixture of political ugliness mixed in with some thought-provoking stuff sprinkled in with some community news and sports.
  This isn’t being run by some teenager writing in his underwear in the basement. The people behind this are sharp and have some darn good inside information. There are some connections within the Oak Lawn inner circle of power players.

  One of its joys in life is to try to bury Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and her people.
  The only trouble is, it’s anonymous. No one is publically admitting or taking ownership of the site. So, for the rest of this column, it will be referred to as the Cowardly Blog.
  Former mayor Dave Heilmann admitted he founded the blog but didn’t have time to administer it any more. So who is running the show? Heilmann? Heisenberg? Who knows?
  And that’s the problem.
  Bury recently came up with her own blog and the Cowardly Blog immediately cried foul. They have been nailing her with accusations about ethics and misdeeds. Are the charges right on the money or is the Cowardly Blog just urinating in the wind? That will all be determined.
  But I will say that the Cowardly Blog should clean up its own ethical shop before pointing it fractured finger at others.

  For instance, the Cowardly Blog has lifted word-for-word some prose from one of Reporter reporter Bob Rakow’s stories. It’s one thing to use the same quotes that we do. It’s another to steal the writing before the quotes word for word. It’s called plagiarism. Feel free to steal from us, just give us the credit boys and girls.
  Also, one of the photos used in a Richards football story was stolen — without giving credit — from a daily newspaper. Another no-no.
  I suspect that the Cowardly Blog will respond in not-so-kind fashion to this criticism, but I would like to extend an olive branch.
  If someone from the Cowardly Blog would like to show some guts and use his or her name and go on the record with me about the blog and why it exists and discuss its goals, I will be happy to talk. Our e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
  If you do that, I will run a column on it (free publicity!) I will stop calling you the Cowardly Blog and will show you proper respect.
  Until then, you can enjoy your little blog that is jam packed with bluster but void of credibility.

Not too cold for this guy
  Anyone who was out and about over the weekend knows it was cold out. Anyone who went to a high school football game may still not be fully thawed out for Thanksgiving.
  I was shooting photos of the Marist-Naperville Central game on Saturday night and the temperature was 19 degrees and the wind chill made it feel like it was in the single digits.
  Speaking of digits, my shooting hand had some frozen fingers and the hand with the big ol’ glove on it also featured a frozen finger or two. The sideline portable hand warmers were quite the popular destination on this night. I saw two football players on the bench huddled in a blanket. Tough guys aren’t always so tough on a night like this.
  But despite the freezing cold, there was one guy on the Naperville chain gang who decided it was still balmy enough to wear shorts.
  I shot a photo of him and probably should have interviewed him. But I was too cold to talk.
  Was he brave? Was he crazy? Was he both?
  Any way you look at it, those bare legs certainly stuck out in the crowd.

Ahhhh, shaddup
  Evergreen Park’s Binny’s Beverage Depot, which took over Bleekers Bowl this year, is having three sports figures stop by for its grand opening next week.
  On Monday, Ben Smith of the Blackhawks hits town from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to sign autographs and pose for photos. The Bud Light Ice Crew ladies are supposed to be there, too.
  Former Bears coach Mike Ditka will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. He will sign bottles of his brand of wine for free but if you want something else you need to cough up 25 bones which will go to Evergreen Park charity Christmas Without Cancer. One of my favorite sound bites is Ditka telling a heckling fan “Ahhhh, shaddup” after a game. It still makes me laugh.
  On Saturday, Dec. 7, Hall of Fame football player Dan Hampton will hold court in a meet-and-greet from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
  Binny’s is located at 3447 W. 95th St.


The (Shoe) Doctor is still in

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Beloved EP business loaded up the Kia and moved to Beverly

  Moises Compos — the man known PAGE-1-color-3col-moisesThe Shoe Doctor — Moises Campos — is now honing his craft in Beverly after spending a number of years in Evergreen Park. Photo by Jeff Moises the Shoe Doctor — made an emergency exit from The Plaza in Evergreen Park, by turning his Kia Sportage into an ambulance of sorts that transported his business into Beverly.

  “We just didn’t have time to inform all of our customers,” his grandson, Steve Sanchez, said. “We received notice of the closure in April and we had until the end of May to vacate the premises. We didn’t even hire movers. My grandfather used his creativity and built a shoe rack on top of his Kia Sportage SUV. It took 25 trips but we got it done!”
  Many of the small businesses within The Plaza left 10 years ago when rumors of the closure first began to surface. During that time, Compos, of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood was just a loyal employee to former owner and friend, Alberto Levin. Compos began working for Levin in The Plaza in 1969 shortly after he and wife, Maura, and their nine children arrived from Mexico, hoping for a chance for a better life.
  Compos said wasn’t deterred by the rumors of The Plaza closing. He eagerly slipped into Levin’s shoes and purchased, what was then known as, Sam the Shoe Doctor in 2001.
  For Compos, he said it was a dream realized. Prior to his arrival in America, he said he established himself making cowboy boots in Mexico. Compos said he was grateful to have a job repairing some of the same merchandise he had experience making by hand. The entrepreneur within him began to grow and he expanded the business beyond shoe repair.
  Moises The Shoe Doctor is a retailer of western wear that offers repairs on shoes, purses, handbags, jackets, and boots.
  The store also offers custom orthotic assistance. Shoe shines are another popular service that brings back the regulars. Sanchez, of Chicago, works with Campos.
3-col-jump-MOISES2Moises Campos, Stephen Sanchez and Steve Sanchez show some of the boots available at their new shop in Beverly after their old shop got the boot from the Plaza in the spring. Photo by Jeff Vorva.  So why in this age do people still have their shoes fixed?
  “Many of our customers come to us because they have an attachment to the item,” Sanchez said. “It can’t be replaced anywhere else or it’s too costly to replace.”
  Dorothy Tryban and daughter, Tracy Tryban of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood have fond memories of Moises and his shop.
  “Growing up in the Back of The Yards neighborhood as a child, we couldn’t afford a closet full of shoes like what people have now,” Dorothy said. “Shoes had a purpose. There was a pair for church, school and play. It was rare for our shoes to be replaced, they were always repaired.”
  Tracy recalls being with her late father, James Tryban, in The Plaza, when he’d have his shoes repaired.
  “Sometime it would be the heel, other times the soles,” Tracy said. “I remember the tap-tap-tap of the nail hitting the bottom of the shoe, tacking the new sole into place. I was just a little girl, over 25 years ago. It’s amazing they’re still around with all the big box businesses we have now.”
  Yes, Moises the Shoe Doctor is still practicing but now in a location at 10935 S Western Ave, tucked away inside a small, strip mall.
  “My grandfather has another 20 years in him,” Sanchez said. “We left Evergreen Park but we haven’t left our customers. (We want them to) stop in and say hello.”

Storm causes OL officials to re-think emergency system

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 The severe storm from Sunday may lead to significant changes to Oak Lawn’s new tornado system, which has been the subject of criticism since it was installed in the summer.
  Police Lt. Art Clark, who heads the village’s emergency management system, said the village may eliminate the system’s automated voices and rely solely on a longer tone to warn people of tornadoes and other disasters.
  “This is one of the things we’re looking at,” Clark said.
  Currently, the system features a siren as well as voice capabilities that communicate to residents in English, Spanish, Polish and Arabic. Warnings are broadcast in English first followed by the other three languages. English is not the first language spoken in 26 percent of Oak Lawn homes, Clark said.
  Some residents have complained that the siren is too loud or too soft, while others believe messages should be broadcast solely in English, Clark said. Still others have complained that the system does not include their native language, he said.
  The system is designed for outdoor notification, Clark said. There are six sets of sirens strategically located throughout the village, he said. Messages can be communicated from the police station or a squad car and to one or all of the speakers, he said. He said it is impossible to ensure that every resident will hear the siren clearly.
  To further alert residents of weather-related disasters, the village is offering coupons for a 50 percent discount on a NOAA Weather Radio. The coupons will distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning Dec. 7 at village hall and can be redeemed at Walgreens, 4740 W. 95th St. The cost of the radio with the coupon is $20.
  The radios broadcast information from the National Weather Service.

After last year’s absence, Sexton ready for EP village address today

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton will outline the village’s future today, Thursday, in his annual state of the village address.
  Sexton’s luncheon remarks will be made at 11:30 a.m. at the village’s senior center, 9547 W. Homan Ave. Tickets are $6.
  The mayor was forced to skip last year’s speech, as he was recovering from West Nile virus.
  “I’ll be glad to be back with the seniors,” Sexton said. “There’s a lot that’s happened.”
  The bulk of Sexton’s address will focus on retail development throughout the village. The mayor plans to bring seniors up to speed on plans to redevelop the Plaza and the recent groundbreaking for Mariano’s, an upscale grocer that expects to open in late 2014.
  The future of the Plaza is still in the planning stages, but Sexton’s hopeful he can announce a grand opening date during his 2014 state of the village speech.
  What he can tell seniors is that Binny’s Beverage Depot held its grand opening on Wednesday. The liquor store is doing business in the former Bleekers Bowl, 3447 W. 95th St.
  Sexton said the store is paying tribute to Bleekers by posting a photo of the longtime bowling alley in the store and preserving one of the racks used to store balls.
  Across the street, Tavern on the Green is putting the finishing touches on the restaurant that will replace Karson’s Restaurant and Pancake House, an establishment in the village for decades.
  Meanwhile, Beverly Bank is renovating the bank on the northeast corner of 95th Street and Pulaski Road while Walgreens, which is building a new store on the southeast corner of the intersection, is expect to open in late 2014, Sexton said.