Chicago, it’s time to meet your neighbors.
For the first installment of our new series, we’d like to introduce you to the South Side Rodriguez family, who have run a community food pantry out of their East Side garage with little more than their own hands for more than four decades.
That fact alone was enough to get us interested in their story, but as we talked outside their pantry garage and day turned into night, we learned about the spirit of inclusivity, service and love that spurred the food pantry’s creation. It all began when Lolly Rodriguez, who is hearing-impaired, met her future husband in the late 1970s.
“I was talking to a guy that lived in the next parish, and we kind of knew each other, and Bob comes in, he said, ‘Hey Bob, I want you to meet somebody,’” recalls Rodriguez. “He comes up to me and he looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to marry you.’ Later on, I asked him, ‘Why did you feel that way?’ And he said, ‘I had dream that something important was going to happen to me when I walked in here.’”
His premonition proved true. Bob and Lolly married and moved to their East Side home in 1979. The following year, when job cuts at nearby factories created tremendous need in their new community, Rodriguez says they felt compelled to help, because “we both knew what it was to go without.”
As they began putting down roots in their community, the Rodriguezes also began growing their family – eventually to 17 children, including nine adopted children and two permanent foster children.
“They got me when I was 6, going on 7,” said son Van Rodriguez. “I remember all the time doing the food pantry, help stocking shelves, unloading the food trucks.”
Anastasia Villalobos joined the family when she was 14. “Living in their house, you were never alone,” she said. “The door was never locked. … We always had brothers and sisters to play with. When we needed something, they were there. I’m totally blessed to be with Lolly.”
The Rodriguez family lost Bob in 2002, but Lolly has kept the pantry going to help anyone who needs it.
“If they come here ready for food, we’ll give it to them,” says son Kevin Rodriguez. “That’s always been one of the things people liked about … my mother and my father’s food pantry, is that they did not discriminate and they did not turn down people for lack of information. … They just took care of them.”
Forty years after it began, running the pantry continues to be a family affair.
“We’ve always helped out in the pantry, and then it inspired our kids to want to help out because of [Lolly]. We just do what she does,” said Villalobos.
Over the years, the Rodriguez family has helped feed hundreds of families – and they say it’s not uncommon for some of the people they’ve helped in the past to return the favor when they’re able to.
“I was working at a restaurant on the North Side and I was taking the trains and busses home and one day I missed my bus so I took an Uber from the train station,” said Kevin Rodriguez. “As she pulled in, she said, ‘I used to come here all the time for food.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And she says, ‘I can’t believe you’re Lolly’s son, I know exactly who you are.’ And I remember the very next day (Lolly) got a donation from that person.”
For more information about the Rodriguez family food pantry or to make a donation, contact Lolly Rodriguez at 773-504-5306 or Van Rodriguez at 773-412-7545.