A few days a week, hundreds of shoppers stream into the Breakthrough Fresh Market food pantry to pick out their groceries. But, on Friday morning, the Fresh Market is quieter. A group of volunteers unloads boxes of food and organizes them on the shelves. Louise is one of the volunteers who works thoughtfully and consistently behind the scenes to prepare the market for families.

Volunteers Prepare the Fresh Market

On a typical day, Louise helps accept food deliveries, stocks the shelves with items, and guides other volunteers. The market offers a variety of meats, dairy products, breads, canned foods, and other household items. Louise tries to arrange the items in an orderly and aesthetic way and is always thinking about small improvements.

“It’s important to me because I like the looks on the faces when people come in,” she says. 

fresh market volunteer Louise puts cereal on shelves in the Fresh Market
Volunteer Louise arranges items on the shelves in the Fresh Market.

When the volunteers arrived on Friday morning, the shelves were empty after shopping hours on Thursday. About 200 families visit the Fresh Market each shopping day, and Louise said word of mouth makes the food pantry so popular. She recalls a shopper saying that she’s never been disappointed in the options, and, as this sentiment is passed on to others, new families come through.

‘It’s like a family’

Louise got her start at the Fresh Market about four years ago when she offered to help her mom and 20-year volunteer, Sally, one day. “I came over and helped her out, and I’ve been here ever since,” Louise says.

Volunteers Thoughtfully Prepare the Fresh Market for Families 1
Volunteers Louise and Sally in the Fresh Market food pantry.

Sally has been one of the longest-serving volunteers at Breakthrough, helping with our food distribution efforts even before the Fresh Market opened. “It’s good working with her,” Louise says. “I like the fact that it fulfills her.”

The program is largely run by consistent volunteers who work behind the scenes when the market is closed and assist shoppers on days when it is open. Louise said she always knows whose faces she’ll find when she walks in the door.

“We have volunteers who have been here from the original opening of the Fresh Market, and it’s like a family,” she says.

Walking to Increase Food Access

This weekend, the Fresh Market volunteers will be participating in Breakthrough’s annual Walk for Hunger. Louise said she has been walking alongside her mom in the Hunger Walk, previously sponsored by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, for about 10 years. Breakthrough’s second-annual Walk for Hunger in East Garfield Park is on Saturday, April 29, and Louise is looking forward to gathering with the Breakthrough family. Every walker earns $25 for fresh, high-quality food that, thanks to volunteers, will be thoughtfully arranged for local families.