Community nets thousands in donations for new FISH Pantry van

DOWNERS GROVE – Volunteers who drive the new FISH Pantry van for daily pickups no longer have to worry about the starter – or any other part – breaking down in a parking lot or on the side of a road, stranding them until a tow truck arrives.

“When you go down the street and you hit a bump, (the new van) doesn’t go over into the other lane,” volunteer driver Leonard Atkins said. “We’ve been towed in that other one so many times. We got stuck out in Bolingbrook one day, and luckily a guy with a tow truck came by and towed us into the parking lot.”

The new van’s radio works, the air conditioning functions at more than one speed – the old one only worked on blast – and the steering is much improved, in addition to being just plain reliable.

“It’s pretty nice,” Atkins said.

The pantry bought the van in April, recently added new running boards and will soon have lettering added to the side.

The new cargo van, a white 2013 Ford with about 30,000 miles, was made possible thanks to $20,030 in donations that came flooding in from the Downers Grove community in a matter of months.

It started with a $10 donation that was handed to a volunteer driver in a gas station parking lot, continued with countless checks in the mail, and was capped by a fundraising drive by seven middle and grade schools, which raised $1,820, according to pantry volunteer June Miller. On top of that, the Grove Foundation gave another $1,000.

“It was unreal, the money just kept coming in,” longtime volunteer pantry director Ruth Anderson said. “We had the schools and kids helping us, it was unreal.”

Anderson and the other volunteers also gave credit to long-time driver Allen Chandler who helped spread the word and encourage donations.

Quickly, donations exceeded the goal, bursting through the thermometer poster the pantry had tacked to the wall to track progress.

The pantry helps a regular clientele of 135 families with food and clothing, in addition to other support, thanks to dozens of volunteers, donations and the generosity of the Township office, which allows them to use the basement for free.

Anderson and Atkins said the pantry is now looking for more volunteers to drive the van and help at the pantry.

“It’s nice to take care of people that are really in need,” Atkins said. “It makes you feel good doing your job.”