- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

HOPKINS PARK, Ill. (AP) - When Bruce Spencer first moved from Chicago to Pembroke Township he earned a living doing odd maintenance jobs. That placed him directly in people’s homes. When he told his wife, Lillian, that a child was scolded by his mother because he looked for food in the refrigerator, the couple was inspired to open Hopkins Park’s food pantry.

“His mother yelled at him and said, ‘Get out of there. There isn’t anything in there,’” said Lillian, who was deeply moved by the story. “I told my husband, ‘We’re going to start a food pantry.’”

Bruce and Lillian today provide food to more than 1,500 people per month at The Lord’s Lambs Food Pantry - which essentially is an aging trailer behind Riverside Medical Center’s clinic in Hopkins Park.

The Spencers’ record of accomplishment and service is why the Kankakee County branch of the NAACP selected the couple for the 2015 Community Service Award. They were nominated by NAACP’s youth council, who helped volunteer at the pantry, said Paulette Crank, NAACP secretary.

“It came through the kids,” Crank said. “We thought it would be appropriate to give them an award for what they do out there.”

Lillian, who serves as the food pantry’s director, said memories of her own childhood experience growing up in a large, fatherless family gives her plenty of motivation. She can remember her mother crying alone in her room, where she believed her six children wouldn’t hear her.

Lillian still tears up when she thinks back on her mother’s struggles to feed a family.

“I know what that feels like. If someone needs food, I am going to feed them,” Lillian said. “This is my calling. This is me. This is what I love doing. I want this on my headstone.”

Bruce, who still is recovering from a major back surgery from two weeks ago, is the pantry’s operations manager. That is no small task. There are weekly pickups of donations from grocery stores such as Wal-Mart, Jewel and Aldi in Kankakee. The Kmart distribution center in Manteno is another big donor, literally donating skids full of products.

The couple, with the help of volunteers, picks all of it up themselves with a small delivery truck twice per week. When the pantry opens on Saturdays and every other Wednesday, the tiny pantry is so full they have to roll the food out of a window to distribute it outside.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank, a nonprofit organization serving 13 Illinois counties, said the pantry essentially is the only source of food within 17 miles, excluding a small convenience store and gas station located within Pembroke Township.

The lines at The Lord’s Lambs grow to 100 people long, many of whom wait for hours outside before it opens at 9 a.m. The need has clearly outgrown the facility, but there is help on the way. The couple has built strong relationships in the community and with the Illinois food bank as well as Hoekstra Potato Farms.

Plans to build a new, larger facility could move forward with a donation of land Hoekstra is making near the former Nestle plant on East Central Avenue in Hopkins Park. The property comes complete with an electrical hookup, concrete slab and a well - bringing it a step closer to development.

The food bank is lending fundraising expertise to help the pantry secure between $75,000 and $250,000 to construct a pole barn at the site. A plan to build the pantry next to Hopkins Park Village Hall fell through.

A larger facility would provide shelter for residents, many of home are elderly, to wait inside in unfavorable weather, provide more space for storage and possibly include an office and classrooms for other programs.

As for the honors from the NAACP? Bruce and Lillian said they’re not in it for the recognition. The couple doesn’t even receive pay for what is a full-time endeavor for both. But, they are hopeful the award gives them yet another edge in raising the money they need.

“It’s very good timing,” Lillian said. “As long as we get something that’s decent and good for the community, that’s what I’m looking for.”


Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1QBIb5k


Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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