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Gregory Gross: Executive Director of Care for Real

Care for Real started as a response to an acute need for food distribution in a Chicago neighborhood, but staff quickly realized how important the issue was. 50 years later, Care for Real is still providing free food, clothing, and pet supplies to individuals and families in need. If you’re interested in volunteering or donating items, check out their site here.

How does the shopping process work?

Shoppers come to the pantry and are registered on a tablet. We get their family size and any dietary restrictions to help them shop. If they are homeless and can only take pre-prepared foods, we can provide that. There are volunteers inside the pantry who take that information and collect the order for folks to take home. The majority of our food comes from our food rescue program. We pick up excess food from grocery stores that has gotten to its “sell by” date, which means it’s still edible but just can’t be sold in stores. During the pandemic, we took all our distribution and registration outside to keep people safe.

Outside of providing food, what other services do you offer?

Clients of the food pantry can make an appointment to shop for clothes for themselves or their families at our clothing closet called Marie’s Closet. Everything in it is donated or gently used and comes from businesses or people in the neighborhood. Once a month, we have a pet food pantry for clients to pick up pet supplies. About a decade ago, we discovered that people were taking food from the pantry to give to their pets. For a lot of people, their pet is their only companion and they are treated like a family member. With the pet pantry, they don’t have to decide between feeding themselves or their pet. There’s a second food pantry location in Rogers Park that has distributions twice per week. Nobody is turned away for any of our services, people come from all over the city to reach us.

Where do you hope to take Care for Real going forward?

During the pandemic, we launched a pilot program of home delivery services for people who are stuck inside because of illness, injury, or age. We’ve been delivering food to them twice per month and it’s been really successful, so I’d love to expand on that. We want to continue working with local elected officials to let them know what we see and the concerns we hear from our clients. For example, when the moratorium on evictions ended, we had a huge increase of people coming to the pantry. When you suddenly have to pay for rent again, you have a lot less money for food. These are the kinds of things we want to share with elected officials so they can make changes accordingly.

What is the best part of your job?

No two days are the same, which is what I love. We have a small staff and rely heavily on support from volunteers. Last year we had over 30,000 volunteer hours. I help with fundraising, operations, work with the board, and am the public face of the organization. I get to spend time with volunteers, clients, donors, and staff. My favorite part is knowing that everything we’re doing is to serve our community and help our neighbors in need. We are able to assist those around us.


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