Our experience volunteering at the Figueroa Wu Family Foundation
Recently for a civics class, we were required to do an activity to benefit the community and instill a mindset of being selfless. While not being as well known or supported as other organizations such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Figueroa Wu Family Foundation or more commonly known as the Pilsen Food Pantry serves those in needs in a plethora of ways:
Focuses on providing fresh foods which are healthy and contains more nutrients
Contains a clothes donation center which will give free clothes to those in need
Gives household products such as lightbulbs and menstrual products
Delivers food to homebound clients to respond to the food insecurity issue during Covid-19
Holds a free book drive to help kids from impoverished homes to have access to reading materials
Provides medical supplies and support to its guests
Beyond these ways to help the community, the Pilsen Food Pantry is working on making Pilsen a safer and better environment. It is currently working on new initiatives such as providing law-related advice and giving a space for the community to grow and thrive.
We had the opportunity to interview one of the Founders of the organization Charlie Figueroa. Below are some of the questions we asked him:
Can you tell us your position at the Pilsen Food Pantry?
My name is Charlie. I am Dr. Figaro’s child, um, the manager and not the manager, the, uh, director. And I've been with her since we started this, like I think two and a half years ago. And I come at least every Sunday. I also come a lot when we're on break and, you know, during the summer. So I've seen the entire growth of this place.
When was the Pilsen Food Pantry established?
I think it was the is year 2021 right. So I think it was like January, fall of 2018 was when we first started like handing out food, but it really started maybe like a week before, when we started like preparing, we got like maybe four people and it was in a clinic, um, on 18th and Ashland who was in the clinic there. And we just spent like a few, like a week or two, just like preparing really hard. And then one day we had this big girl, I know I'm going off a little bit, but there's just this big day. And we were very, very anxious that it wasn't gonna work out, but it was I think, yeah, I think it was like, it was in the first week of January of 2018. I don't remember the exact date though.
Why was the Pilsen food pantry established?
Well, this is kind of a long story, but, um, so there is some time that I was in the car with my mom. I don't remember why we were coming back cause like 2017 and I think we were in the car and I'm sure, you know, she's a family doctor and a big part of being a family doctor is like experiencing the community that your patients are in. And she was just kind of frustrated. She didn't, she couldn't do as much as she wanted to do for her patients because, you know, if some patients aren't really good spots, then they just have like a few family issues. But some patients don't have enough food. Some patients have unstable housing and she wanted to see if she could work on that kind of stuff. So we were in the car and I think we were honestly joking around and then she's like, no, I want to do something. Cause she's always told me she's wanting to do something, but I've never taken that seriously. And then one day she was like, no, we're going to start something. And I was like, yeah, right, good luck with that. But then she was, I did not think she was serious, but she was actually serious. So I guess to answer your question, it was because she wanted to help people in a way. She couldn't, that's just the doctor.
What else do you hope the Pilsen Food Pantry accomplishes?
So right now we, uh, that little corner room that you saw with the thought that's a medical life lending library for like medical tools. And I don't go into it, but I know that, but what it does and we also have the clothes closet, which I think you guys probably saw in the food pantry. Well, one thing we want to branch is, um, like law. I think it's one of the things we want to have a little, like, not public, but we want to have some way that we can help clients who need help with their housing or things along that line. Because like, like I mentioned, not all clients are in secure housing, so we want to work on just first off, like making this community a lot stronger. This community has like two food pantries. That's why this one's kind of crazy. Like looking, most of them they're pretty small. This is why it sounds so big because this is one of the only food pantries in Pilsen. So that's what we are doing. But like I said, she's just like, there's a lot of things you can't do it. And even getting food is not the only thing. So we want to branch out into, like, like I said, the law center, I think it's a, a law intern is what it was something along those lines giving like, you know, jobs, uh, students giving, um, like volunteer hours, something we already do. But there's a lot of just like, honestly kind of just making Pilsen a secure and better place for a lot of the residents. Cause this is a neighborhood that does not get as fair of a treatment as it should.
What is one struggle that you face in general?
It used to be that we didn't have enough volunteers and that we didn't have enough food. That was one. But a lot of the time now I feel like it's just not enough time. Sometimes we even have a lot of volunteers. You saw downstairs. We have like probably 20 people here. There's so many people, but there's just not enough time anymore to do all the things we want. And like, sometimes it's like, or it's just not enough. Like, like the cars aren't big enough for stuff like that. I think time is like the biggest thing we fight against at this point, and like, no, we have these volunteers for three hours and we have to go through an entire huge list of self that's. And now my dad's not even here today and it's working perfectly fine. So we're clearly good on the numbers. But like when it comes to being able to do everything, that's just, what's really difficult. And that's why we just slowly, like, because at first mom was running the clothes closet, but then she was like, I can't do this by myself. I need to get, that's why Natalia is here. And that's why in the summer we're getting interns. That's why everything is like, there's more people because it's, you can't do this alone anymore. I think that's hard for her because at the beginning it wasn't just her. So having to do things like, you know, and me too, but like, it was mainly her having to do things like with other people it's incredibly difficult.
Has the Pilsen social health initiative personally affected your life? And if so, in what way?
Oh, absolutely. I think for one I'm, I'm not a nice person. I'm a really selfish person. I'm super aware of it and I try to change it. But I think the biggest thing has been that this place really humbled me and like, cause I remember, I think it started in about seventh grade, like a middle of the middle of six or the middle of seventh grade. And I used to be this chatty Cathy, which was really arrogant and didn't pay attention to what other people in my class were thinking about at all. Or just like, I've always had this trouble with like, like, like she would always just say like, you need to think about what other people think, but thinking about my dad, I don't care. They don't matter to me, but this place is like, whenever I come here, it's really hard to be a jerk once you're here. Like I don't have it as bad as these people have it, this place has really like forced me to be humble, but it's also brought a lot of my friends closer to me.
We enjoyed our experience with the Pilsen Food Pantry and the volunteering was rewarding. We did 2 different activities during the month of May. Our first time at the Pantry, we helped with the clothes drive. We organized new donations and helped label and inventory the products. The following Sunday, we helped with sorting fresh foods and preparing newly delivered food to be stored properly.
What can you do to support the Pilsen Food Pantry?
One of the best ways to support the Pilsen Food Pantry is to volunteer.
Pantry weekday shifts - help distribute food to those in need, and sort donations.
Pantry delivery driver - drive food deliveries to homebound clients.
Clothes closet shift- sort and organize clothes for the free clothes closet
Greater Chicago Food Depository delivery helper - help unpack pallets of food and supplies for the pantry
For further information on times of volunteering, refer to their website https://www.figueroawufamilyfoundation.com/pilsen-food-pantry
In addition to volunteering, you are able to donate items to support the various programs this organization supports.
food donations - non-perishable or produce donations are accepted
High-demand items such as instant coffee, menstrual products, and hygiene items, baby diapers/supplies, and dry pet food.
Clothes items - especially and men’s sweatshirts
We highly recommend volunteering and supporting this organization. It has adapted to the issues Covid-19 faces by delivering to homebound clients, giving free clothes to those in need, and constantly providing food at a time of instability.