Construction to begin on new permanent home for Common Pantry

After 56 years of operation, Chicago’s oldest continuously operating food pantry is breaking ground on a new home. 

Common Pantry, which serves about 600 Chicago residents a month, will begin construction Friday at 3908 Lincoln Ave. Chicago architecture firm Wheeler Kearns designed a new look for the former home of Wasabi Cafe.

“The team have helped us design a space that is both functional and welcoming,” said Common Pantry executive director Margaret O’Conor. 

The pantry has shared space with Epiphany Church of Christ for 35 years.

The new space, which will open in spring, is about 1,000 feet away.

The Common Pantry staff has been considering a move for years, but accessibility concerns began to arise in 2018, O’Conor said. Guests currently have to carry large loads of groceries down stairs. 

The new ground-level location will be ADA accessible, said O’Conor, and remains close to the CTA Brown Line.

“That building allows us to be fully accessible to people with any kind of mobility issue,” O’Conor said. 

O’Conor also hopes the 3,500-square-foot space, located on a commercial strip, will increase visibility to potential guests. 

An architect’s rendering of the outdoor courtyard, which will debut when the new Common Pantry location opens this spring.

Courtesy of Wheeler Kearns and Common Pantry

Common Pantry partnered with the Illinois Facilities Fund, which gives grants to nonprofits, to finance the $2.6 million project. State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz and state Rep. Ann Williams, both Democrats, secured $1.5 million in capital funding. 

Service-area expansions established during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue in the new space, even as inflation has driven up operating costs, O’Conor said. 

“People don’t think there’s food insecurity on the North Side of Chicago, or specifically in the North Central area,” O’Conor said. “But there are pockets of poverty in the area that we’ve been able to provide really critical resources for.”

The pantry also serves a hot meal every Wednesday for about 85 guests. O’Conor said one of the main reasons Common Pantry bought the space was to use the existing commercial kitchen. The redesign will incorporate larger items, including the range hood and freezers.

The new space will include volunteer and multipurpose rooms, introducing the possibility of on-site fundraising events and partnerships with health agencies, O’Conor said. 

Common Pantry will also host an on-site social worker and Common Kids, the pantry’s outreach program, recruiting kids as volunteers alongside their caregivers.

“We really led this entire design process based on what our guests had to say about what they would like to see in the new space,” O’Conor said.

The brightly lit space will feature an outdoor courtyard with a “living wall” made of climbing plants.  Both the courtyard and an indoor dining area will hold large communal tables.

When the design process started, Common Pantry staff asked guests what programming they wanted to see, O’Conor said. Dedicated eating space outdoors was a huge priority. 

“Right now they sit on the steps of the church, or people put out benches in front of the church,” O’Conor said. “This would allow them an opportunity to have their own space.”

Normal food distribution hours — Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., as well as Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m.  — will continue at Epiphany Church until construction is finished. Guests can pick up food once a month, though they must bring a photo I.D. with a current address.


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