For some time, it has been the dream of Barb Karacic, Food Pantry Services Director at Holy Family in Waukegan, to have a place for her clients to go and take a class, garden, exercise, or find some peace and quiet. Then, late last year, a dilapidated property across the street from the Food Pantry, was put up for sale and Maribeth Roberti, a volunteer, set out to buy it.
“It broke my heart to think that families were living in this house,” says Maribeth, describing the property’s dangerous conditions, not to mention the graffiti that covered the home’s exterior. Maribeth, who spent years as a social worker in Chicago’s inner city, was drawn to the work Barb was doing at the Food Pantry.
“I liked the idea of being able to help Barb take the services offered at the Food Pantry to the next level,” explains Maribeth. Once the home was deemed a solid structure, Maribeth’s foundation—the Roberti Foundation—purchased the house and hired Kennedy Construction of Waukegan to manage the project. Roberti Community House officially opened last month.
“I tell our clients that Roberti Community House is their house,” Barb says. “I want the house to be whatever it is they want it to be.”
For example, the Food Pantry hosts a Mom’s Group that will now meet at Roberti Community House. “I kicked off our last meeting by asking the group what they’d like to talk about,” says Barb. “And one of the mothers suggested ‘recycling.’ Never in a million years would I have guessed that this would be the topic of the day, but their children were learning about it at school and asking about it at home. They wanted to learn, too.”
Barb anticipates that the teaching kitchen will be the most used space in the house. “We’ve discovered that our clients don’t always know how to prepare the food we give them, mainly because they can’t read the instructions on the label,” she says. “And other things are cultural. Last year, we gave out all of these turkeys and most of our clients had never cooked a turkey before. So the first class we’re hosting in our kitchen is how to cook a turkey!”
It’s also important to Barb for her clients to learn how to prepare nutritious meals with what they’re given. “It takes some creativity to put together a well-balanced meal with some of the odd things we have at the Food Pantry,” Barb says. “But it’s critical that they know about healthy ways to cook for their family. And our new kitchen gives us the opportunity to teach these lessons.”
Maribeth, whose teenage daughters volunteer alongside her, is hopeful about what the Roberti Community House could mean to local residents. “I like knowing that people can come here to be safe. To try something new. We’re working hard to make this block one of the best communities in Waukegan,” she adds. “Rehabbing this house was just the first step.”
If you’d like to make a donation to Holy Family’s Food Pantry, contact Barb Karacic at [email protected] or 847-623-2112.
—Ann Marie Scheidler
Roberti House Wish List
To outfit the Roberti House, the current items are needed:
- Office equipment (computer, laptop, fax/copier machine, color printer)
- Office supplies
- Photo printer
- Tables and chairs
- Kid-sized table and chairs
- Security system or service
Making Smart Donations
While Holy Family Food Pantry is grateful for any and all donations, some gifts are more helpful than others. When contributing to the Food Pantry, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Small packages are best. While it might seem that the 20 lb. bag of rice from Costco is a good idea, the reality is that the Food Pantry can’t redistribute these larger packages into smaller ones. According to regulatory guidelines, all food handed out at the Food Pantry must be in its original packaging with all labeling intact. Additionally, most people visiting the Food Pantry come on foot or pushing a stroller, making it nearly impossible to manage large quantities.
- Fresh produce, please. It’s hard for the Food Pantry to secure fresh produce, so if you happen to have produce you can spare or would like to donate some, it’s very appreciated because it is hard to come by.
- Use the suggested “wish list” as a guideline. The Food Pantry posts a wish list for donations on its website. While grateful for all donations, it’s difficult to distribute odd canned goods like pie filling or condiments. To see the wish list, visit holyfamilyfoodpantry.org.