Helping hand: Bronzeville church gives back for Thanksgiving


Patrice Graham

At the Apostolic Faith Church, a staff member stocks food products in preparation for the food pantry which will be held on Nov. 15-16.

Katie Sasamoto-Kurisu, Assistant Editor

Starting 1915, a small group met for weekly worship and Bible study in a small residence in Chicago near 30th and Dearborn. Throughout the next couple decades, the modest congregation transitioned from a small home to a multi-story and expansive property in order to properly serve its new members. The Apostolic Faith Church still stands at 3823 S. Indiana Ave., where it continues to be a place for people to provide a helping hand — and make a connection.

This Thanksgiving, continuing its tradition of over 30 years, the church will host a food pantry Nov. 15-16. For the second year it is partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to accommodate a growth in volunteers and resources, a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The pantry serves people in six ZIP codes in the surrounding areas and is open to all, regardless of identity or residence. 

Lauren Elrod, a pantry staff member who also does youth programming at the church, emphasized that the intent of these events correspond with the philosophy of the church: they aim to serve everyone in the community and beyond.

“Specifically as a church, we want to take care of every human being,” Ms. Elrod said. “Caring for others is not something that we think should just be for people that we know or that we are familiar with.”

Susan Smith, Apostolic Faith Church administrator, said that one of the most appealing aspects of the pantry is that it is structured around client choice. This autonomy is one of the biggest ways pantry volunteers ensure guests feel seen and valued. 

“They’re not just getting something thrown at them,” Mrs. Smith said. “It helps us to teach our parishioners what it means to be a volunteer, how to serve people, how to do it with gladness, how to make people feel important and relevant.” 

“It’s really about seeing the people that you’re serving. It lifts me up. Being around people is a good thing.”

— Lauren Elrod

Ms. Elrod, a former educator, recognizes a deeper initiative. Especially with their younger volunteers, Ms. Elrod and other volunteer leaders try to get at the deeper root cause of the issues that may cause a person to require help. This primarily acts as additional access points, pertaining to issues such as job unemployment, housing insecurities or health. These resources are enabled by events like the Thanksgiving pantry, which aim to give back and support community members.

“We don’t always want to stop at distribution,” she said. “We’re really committed to making some long-term solutions.”

In addition to serving systematic issues within the community, the church also offers individuals a means to interact with people they otherwise wouldn’t. In this way initiatives designed around giving back can have a more lasting impact.

Due to its location in Bronzeville and near Chinatown, the church has created important connections between members of the Black and Asian communities by hosting a shared experience.

“You have to create spaces for people to make those connections,” Ms. Elrod said.

Workers and staff members alike enjoy being with people connecting with guests on a personal level.

“Everybody has a job to do, and it’s a lot of fun when you’re working together,” Mrs. Smith said. “The fellowship and camaraderie is a relationship builder.” 

Ms. Elrod loves walking with neighbors through the pantry. 

“It’s really about seeing the people that you’re serving,” she said. “It lifts me up. Being around people is a good thing.”

In engaging with this work, volunteers are able to take away long lasting effects as well, perhaps even more than the tangible resources guests come to get.

“You get more giving than you do when you’re on the receiving end,” Mrs. Smith said. 

Beyond supporting guests with food insecurities, the Thanksgiving pantry gives back to the community in ways that extend to greater humanity.

“It’s just such an appealing demonstration of how we’re supposed to love our fellow man,” Mrs. Smith said, “not just give them something and tell them to be grateful, but to invite them in.”