Among the people who frequent the Common Food Pantry are a former actor full of anecdotes and impressions, a chemistry professor who taught for 30-years in the Philippines, and a man recovering from a devastating crystal meth addiction.
The longest-running food pantry of its kind sits in the middle of an upscale neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Because of its location, the pantry has met resistance in recent years from community members worried about its close proximity to their homes.
In response to this concern, Roger Wright’76 and David R. Brown co-wrote I Am Your Neighbor: Voices from a Chicago Food Pantry. The book is the culmination of a two-year project in which the men collected and compiled the stories of 21 clients at the Common Pantry in the spirit of the late Studs Terkel. The goal was to establish the mission of the pantry and highlight the diversity of its clientele by allowing people to open up a dialogue in their own words.
Brown, the vice president of the pantry’s board, met Wright through the Epiphany Church of Christ and commissioned him to work on the book as a freelance project. Wright was drawn to the project because of his interest in storytelling as a means of fundraising.
“What David Brown and I did, more than anything, was listen,” says Wright of the collection. “What I hope makes it different is the fact that the real, underlying power and grace here comes from people telling their stories.”
Wright says he can draw a straight line between this project and his Beloit experience. He cites Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride as the person who introduced him to the power of stories through literature. Wright also credits Beloit for helping him to acquire the ability to think critically and seek alternative approaches to solving social problems.
In the case of I Am Your Neighbor, Wright says, “It’s the problem of hungry people in the midst of neighbors who aren’t hungry.”
I Am Your Neighbor: Voices from a Chicago Food Pantry is being picked up by colleges around the country for required reading in urban sociology programs. Proceeds from the book’s sale go directly back to the pantry.
Wright’s other writing projects include the book Finding Work When There Are No Jobs, released in February by Think Different Press, and his “Chicago Guy” stories, blogs, and essays, which appear on the e-zine Fictionique and the blog aggregator “Our Salon.”