Micro Pantry Program up for Governor’s Cup Award

Since 1983, the Governor’s Hometown Award​s (GHTA) program gives formal recognition to those who have contributed to projects that improved their community’s quality of life. These projects are sponsored by local units of government that had strong volunteer support, met a need, and made a definitive impact; thereby generating a positive outcome in the community and by extension, the state. The program is administered by the Serve Illinois ​Commission, the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service.  The Governor’s cup award is the overall winner of all the Hometown Award winners.

Jeff Eberhard, creator of the Micro Pantry, will be in Springfield on November 14th to receive a Governor’s Hometown Award, and as a candidate for the Governor’s Cup Award.  He was nominated by Will County Health Department Program Coordinators Cindy Jackson and Katie Weber for his innovation called Micro Pantries.

At one time, Jeff Eberhard considered himself pretty simple.  “I was a young type-A; go to work, do your job, work hard, come home.  But life has a way of seasoning you.”

And that “seasoning” Eberhard now talks about is what led to an innovative way of providing food for the needy that has already expanded throughout Northern Illinois as well as to other states.  The limits are unknown as this initiative often motivates people to make a difference, be the change and pay it forward.

Each Micro Pantry is created out of wood, has three shelves, protective double doors, has a shingled roof and siding, making it a very welcoming community cupboard.  Each Micro Pantry is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.  This allows for the anonymous donation of food by those that give and the anonymous pick-up of food for those in need, “Take what you need, leave what you can.”

Eberhard’s business, E-Z Auto Sales at 313 South Larkin in Joliet, is where everything began.  He began to notice nearby residents with various needs and started offering backpacks of food, clothing, and other necessities.  The backpacks are still offered today, but Eberhard knew that many families were not getting what they needed.  “So many were too embarrassed or prideful to ask for help, or did not want the hassle completing paperwork.  The Micro Pantries allow them to just stop by and take what they need for their families and children.”

While this idea had been used around the country before, under various names such as “blessing boxes,” the problem was usually keeping the boxes stocked and maintained.  That’s why Eberhard decided to offer Micro Pantries to police stations, businesses, government offices, churches, and anyone else who could “adopt their Micro Pantry and work to keep it stocked and in good condition.

Jeff Eberhard poses in front of the original Micro Pantry at his business, E-Z Auto Sales at 313 S. Larkin in Joliet

The first Micro Pantry was installed at E-Z Auto Sales in December of 2016.  By the time the Will County Health Department received theirs in May of 2018, the total number of Micro Pantries in the area was 18.  Workers hired by Eberhard continued building more.  And today the Will, Grundy, and LaSalle County areas have a total of 60 Micro Pantries.  A full list of Micro Pantry locations is available at https://arcg.is/1uiXCi.  Other organizations have put some up in Indiana and Ohio, and other parts of the country are noticing.  “People are copycatting it, and that’s exactly what you want to happen,” Eberhard explained.

As for his nomination for the Governor’s Cup Award, it’s not winning that Eberhard is concerned about, but getting the Micro Pantry movement more attention and used throughout the state of Illinois.  “We’ve been trying to get into Springfield to talk about this forever, but it depends on who you know and the legitimacy you have.  The real award winners are those who place these Micro Pantries outside their organizations and adopt them, stock them, and care for them as their own.”

Congratulations to the Micro Pantry project and to the community members that are helping to stock and maintain each Micro Pantry.