50 Years of Helping our Neighbors

In 2017, Common Pantry celebrates five decades of providing emergency food and social services to our neighbors in need. Common Pantry, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit food pantry, was founded in 1967 to combat hunger and food insecurity in specific north side neighborhoods in Chicago.

Our mission is to meet the emergency food needs of our community through our weekly food distributions, home delivery to elderly clients, our hot lunch program and our monthly distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables on Produce Day. Through our Common Community Program, we help individuals and families address the root causes of food insecurity and poverty by assisting with benefit applications, job searches, housing issues and services to the homeless. Thanks to the generosity of donors, we have both a client emergency assistance fund and an I Am Your Neighbor Housing Assistance Fund to address clients’ emergency needs.

Staff and board

Margaret O’Conor (Executive Director)

Margaret comes to Common Pantry after serving as development director of the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and Community Council. O’Conor has also served as a volunteer leader in several local organizations including the Chicago Park District, the Friends of Amundsen High School, and the Chase Park Advisory Council.

While at the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, O’Conor worked to grow the organization’s member base and acted as lead event organizer for its annual fundraiser, Taste of Ravenswood. Her achievements also included advocating, connecting, and growing small businesses in Ravenswood.

“Margaret O’Conor is an established community leader with a passion for social work and the nonprofit sector,” said Common Pantry board president Anne Zender. “She has a strong track record of fund-raising and working with volunteers to support the missions of the organizations she served. The Common Pantry board of directors sought an executive director to provide vision, creativity, and compassion in managing the organization, and we look forward to moving forward with Margaret as the face of Common Pantry in the community.”

She has a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM.

Gwen Murphy (Program Manager)

Gwen joined Common as our Program Manager in June 2017. She manages the Common Community program, which includes our Wednesday lunch, home delivery and social service program. Before joining the Pantry, Gwen completed graduate school internships at the Elam Davies Social Service Center in Chicago and Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, providing housing assistance and case management services to agency clients. Gwen previously worked in the higher education field for 10 years. Gwen holds a Master of Social Work degree from the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. She lives in Lincoln Square.

Anne Zender (Board president)

Lincoln Square resident Anne Zender specializes in nonprofit communications, social media, and media relations through her work with the American Health Information Management Association. She is also a volunteer with the Greater Rockwell Organization and has been organizing food drives in the GRO area since 2012.

Gregg Friedman (Board vice president)

Gregg is a 20-year resident of the Northcenter/St. Ben’s neighborhood. He’s an Information Security Advocate & Mentor for the private sector. Gregg has served on local school councils for both CPS elementary & high schools and has been involved with community fundraising for the arts, anti-hunger, social justice, music, and education. Gregg is bilingual in English & Spanish and enjoys time with family, travel, and bicycling safely around Chicago.

Brenda Menendez (Board Secretary)

Brenda has lived on the northside for over 20 years and enjoyed a career in the hospitality and events management industry.  She is an active Hamilton Elementary school parent and began volunteering at Common Pantry in 2014 after helping with a school food drive. Brenda and her son Jackson can often be found at the pantry sorting food donations, helping with Produce Day, and pitching in wherever they are needed.  A strong believer in community service and raising a socially responsible child, Brenda is a founding member of Common Kids: the pantry’s initiative to teach children about hunger and encourage family volunteerism. Brenda joined the Pantry Board in 2017.

David Brown (Board financial secretary)

David is the Chair of Community Outreach for Common Pantry and has been very active in the Roscoe Village/Lakeview community for more than a decade. In addition to various volunteer and charitable activities, David has served on the Boards of Roscoe Village Neighbors and Epiphany United Church of Christ. David is currently on the Board of Rogers Park Montessori School.

David is particularly passionate about ensuring that pockets of need in Chicago’s relatively affluent north side are not overlooked or ignored. David attended Northwestern University and subsequently received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, concentrating in Housing and Community Development. David has been in the commercial real estate business for 25 years and is president of Harrington Brown, LLC.

Cheryl Imo (Treasurer)

Cheryl has been a resident of the North Center Neighborhood for almost 20 years. She is a CPA with a BS of Accountancy from the University of Missouri and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Cheryl spent 14 years in the workforce with roles in public accounting, corporate finance and investment banking until taking off time to raise her two children. During this time away from the workforce, Cheryl spent several years as a volunteer Treasurer and Board Member of Friends of Bell School, a 501(c)(3) organization.

Jesse Lava

Jesse has been involved in public service since he was five years old and wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan asking him to stop harming children in Nicaragua. Jesse is now focused on serving his city and community. He is director of policy for the Chicago Department of Public Health, developing laws and new initiatives on issues ranging from heroin addiction to air pollution. He is on the board of the Northcenter Neighborhood Association and an advisor of the New Leaders Council. Jesse is also chair of the 47th Ward Democrats’ issues committee and an assisting minister at Luther Memorial Church in Lincoln Square. Jesse received his bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School. He lives in Northcenter with his partner, Emily.

Olga Levin

Olga has been a resident of Northcenter for the past five years, and a volunteer at Common Pantry since September of 2016. A marketing and communications executive in the private sector, Olga was thrilled to join the board and take a more active role in helping Common Pantry serve the needs of her neighbors and community.

Brittany Barson

Brittany has lived in the community her entire life.  Her whole career has been in restaurants and hospitality so she understands how important it is for people to have healthy, delicious food readily available. Currently she works for Educational Advantage, Inc. which, in part, works with the Chicago Housing Authority to train and help CHA residents obtain and retain jobs in the hospitality field

Sarah Mihalik

Sarah Mihalik

Sarah has lived in Lincoln Square since relocating to Chicago in 2010. She began volunteering at the pantry in spring 2016, starting first with Wednesday evening food distribution and building relationships with clients in need. A former journalist, Sarah specializes in connecting with people to understand their story. She serves as Writing Director for Golin, a global communications firm.

Laura Harwood

Laura has worked as a psychologist in the Chicago area for most of her life.  When looking for a local volunteer opportunity about which she felt passionate, Common Pantry fit the bill. She is a person who loves eating, sharing and preparing food with others. Providing meals with thoughtfulness and love has always been Laura’s instinctive way of taking care of those around her. She began volunteering at Common Pantry in 2015 by stocking, shopping and working produce days. She is very excited to contribute more time and energy as a Common Pantry board member.