What started as a casual conversation between two REALTORS® has become a labor of love for members of Janko Realty and Development in Peru, Ill., and now involves employees of nearby businesses and anonymous community members.

“Barb Bryant read a newspaper article about a micro pantry, and she said we ought to do something like that to help local residents negatively impacted by COVID,” said REALTOR® Christine Schweickert, who is also the president of the Illini Valley Association of REALTORS®. “Since we get a lot of people who call us looking for housing, I thought it would be a great idea.

“We started talking about what it would take to get it started and keep it running and others liked the idea, too,” Schweickert said. “Our managing broker (Mark Janko) paid for materials, and my husband, REALTOR® Jerry Schweickert teamed up with Tom Washkowiak, the husband of REALTOR® Theresa Washkowiak to build the pantry.”

In about a month, the volunteers erected the micro food pantry on the west side of the building, christened it the “Blessing Box” and filled it with canned goods and other non-perishables. Since then, the Blessing Box has drawn the attention of anonymous users and volunteers have kept it well stocked for three months, said Schweickert.

“Our slogan is ‘Take what you need, leave what you can,’ and we refill it every two or three days,” she said. “If we get a little low, we get excited. Four other businesses in the complex are contributing. We’re so thankful that it is catching on.”

The volunteers realize that the project is making a difference in the community, but they also realize that the need is much greater than the micro pantry can provide. To help fill that gap, Janko Realty is donating $100 to the Illini Valley Food Pantry for every closing it makes through September, Schweickert said. With the school year already underway and with families facing added expenses for their children, she believes the need for food assistance could become greater.

In the coming months, the volunteers hope to add steppingstones to the ground around the Blessing Box and lighting as the days get shorter, Schweickert said. She’s glad they didn’t wait until the end of the year holidays to work on the project.

“It is a small investment, but we get such a large reward,” she says. “People have to eat year-round.”

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