Food is the sustenance we need to live. It allows our bodies to function. It also provides comfort, connection, cultural understanding and community. The West Suburban Community Pantry will celebrate this essential building block of life at the 8th Annual Chefs’ Culinary Challenge on Sunday, October 20th at the Chicago Marriott Naperville. Guests attending the fundraiser will enjoy and judge appetizers and entrees as the area’s top chefs compete for top honors. Proceeds support the West Suburban Community Pantry’s mission to create a community without hunger through innovative approaches to providing food and resources that empower people to improve their quality of life.
Event Organizer Paula Gleason says “I am so proud to share that the gastronomic gala this year will be presented by eleven Executive Chefs, who willingly give their time and culinary expertise to provide an exceptional food experience for our guests and expand the mission of the pantry!” Chefs will create dishes on the theme of Epicurean Chicago, celebrating the flavors of several distinctive Chicago neighborhoods. Chef Zachery Rogers, Executive Chef at Elements at Water Street in Naperville, is returning to the event for a second year. The Michelin star-winning chef says the challenge for him is to offer an elevated dining experience for the event. He plans an entrée featuring petit filet mignon with black truffles and a rich veal and red wine demi glace. “When you work in my industry, you see how food provides so much pleasure, and then you realize that there are people right in our community that don’t have anything to eat,” he says. “I have two kids. If I couldn’t provide three square meals for them, it would break my heart. We need to do whatever we can to help.”
The West Suburban Community Pantry is headquartered in Woodridge, but has expanded its services to reach more people living in areas higher-than-average poverty within surrounding suburbs, including areas of Bolingbrook, Lisle, Southeast Naperville, Downers Grove, Darien, Willowbrook, Westmont and Romeoville. The Pantry offers regular distribution hours in Woodridge each week, as well as monthly mobile pantries which deliver to Bolingbrook, Willowbrook and Romeoville. The group also offers home deliveries to seniors and an extensive support program serving area school students year-round.
“People may not know that we have several areas in our region where the only accessible source of food may be a Dollar store, a convenience store or a gas station,” says Pantry Executive Director Laura Coyle. “We know that balanced nutrition is critical to maintaining good health and being able to think and learn. That’s pretty tough when you don’t have access to fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. We know that to truly meet the need in our community we cannot follow the same old food pantry model. We must find more effective ways to get food to wherever the need is.”
The Pantry was recently part of a nation-wide initiative led by Feeding America which studied the practical and emotional barriers to food sufficiency. Leading factors are shame, fear, pride, time, transportation, mobility, child care and youth or age.
“We must meet people where they are,” says Coyle. “That’s why we work closely with the schools to reach our most vulnerable population. Our services support children and their families before, during and after school, on weekends and during the summer months. We are on the brink of launching an in-school pantry to support one school where 87% of students receive free or reduced lunch. And our Children in Greatest Need Fund addresses the needs of kids in danger of having their school lunch suspended for lack of payment or whose families have fallen on extraordinarily tough times.”
The Pantry recently converted its facility to a grocery-store model and launched a pilot program leveraging technology to provide on-line ordering and local pick up to a number of Bridge Communities’ residential sites. The Pantry intends to launch the on-line ordering and pick up program to the greater community in the coming months. “This program will allow us to more than double our capacity, allowing us to serve between five and seven thousand more individuals,” says Coyle. Currently, the Pantry serves about 4,000 individuals monthly.
Dane Neal, host of WGN radio’s ‘On the Road with Dane Neal’ will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the fundraiser. “I have been a part of The Chefs’ Culinary Challenge since it started and I’m proud to support the West Suburban Community Pantry,” he says. “This important event is all about great food and a community of chefs and the public coming together for an incredible cause. The event is a blast and has become one of the best tasting nights on the calendar.” The evening also includes cocktails, silent auction and entertainment. The Ann & Victor Pokorny Memorial Fund is lead sponsor of the Chefs’ Culinary Challenge. The Fund, advised by Joseph F. Pokorny and Judith Pokorny, is a long-time supporter of the Pantry. For tickets and information of the Chefs’ Culinary Challenge and West Suburban Community Pantry, visit https://wscpantry.org/chefs-culinary-challenge or call 630-948-8132.