By Sean Stillmaker

On a stroll through Lakeview on a summer Sunday morning, one will find countless couples waiting in line at their favorite breakfast spots and runners packing the Lakefront Trail.

The North Side community, home to approximately 95,000 people, is one of the most sought-after areas to live in the city. Lakeview is known for its great dining, energetic nightlife, superb boutique shopping and convenient access to Lake Michigan. A few steps off the main streets, away from the shopping areas and bustling nightlife, beautifully maintained, tree-lined streets with rows of homes dating back as far as a century offer a quiet ambiance in the residential areas. This neighborhood truly has something to offer everyone.

Along with its beautiful housing and energetic social scene, Lakeview is also home to numerous volunteer opportunities. Lakeview residents don’t just enjoy the dining and shopping in their neighborhood-many also find it important to give back to their community.

Lakeview Pantry

One of the most well-known volunteer spots in this North Side neighborhood is Lakeview Pantry, which has two locations at 3831 N. Broadway St. and 1414 W. Oakdale Ave.

Upon entering the pantry, visitors will find volunteers from all walks of life busy with tasks such as bagging and distributing groceries for needy clients.

Lakeview Pantry strives to eliminate hunger in the community by providing food, increasing the independence of its clients through self-help initiatives and raising awareness about poverty and its solutions.

Founded in 1970, the organization is one of the oldest food pantries in Chicago. It serves clients who make less than $400 a month and live in the neighborhood. Clients can visit Lakeview Pantry once a month and receive up to two weeks’ worth of food for free.

“We can never have too many volunteers and always have plenty of opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved,” said Erin Stephens, director of volunteers. “We need help with food distribution at both of our locations and … with our home delivery program, which we do twice a month.”

Stephens said Lakeview Pantry currently relies on about 200 volunteers to keep the different programs running. About 160 elderly and disabled clients receive food through the home delivery program alone, Stephens said.

Clients of the pantry are encouraged to volunteer their time in exchange for groceries. Those who volunteer at the pantry are also allowed to take home two full bags of food for every four hours they work.

“This sort of program helps by not only giving them food, but also [in giving] them a sense of self-worth,” Stephens said. “They are working for the food they get-that gives them a sense of pride.”

Stephens said every month, about 2,300 people walk through the

doors of Lakeview Pantry. In 2007, it served 7,000 individual clients and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food. In addition to providing food for the less fortunate, Lakeview Pantry provides household items, hygiene products and clothing.

The Brown Elephant

Not far from Lakeview Pantry, positioned on the edge of Lakeview’s Boystown neighborhood, is another grassroots organization that relies heavily on volunteers. The Brown Elephant, 3651 N. Halsted St., is a consignment shop created to help raise money for the Howard Brown Health Center, one of the nation’s largest LGBT health care organizations in the United States.

A large garage door adorned with a colorful rainbow and windows with continuously changing displays line the facade of the consignment shop, but when visitors step inside, they find much more. Shoppers can purchase everything from second-hand furniture to roller blades, all sold at deeply discounted prices.

“We rely on a continuous cycle of generosity, from the people who donate items to all of our dedicated volunteers,” said Travis Marshall, director at The Brown Elephant.

Marshall said The Brown Elephant started out solely as a volunteer-run organization more than 30 years ago.

“When the AIDS crisis first hit and the Howard Brown Health [Center] first opened, they decided to pull together the leftovers from people’s passing and open up a resale shop,” Marshall said. “It became gigantic, and now we generate about $4 million a year in gross sales.”

Marshall said all of the proceeds benefit the Howard Brown Health Center.

“Due to the sheer volume of the organization, we now have about 45-50 paid employees, but we rely mostly on volunteers,” Marshall said.

Volunteer opportunities include clerical work, bagging items for customers and sorting through donated merchandise. Unlike many other volunteer organizations, The Brown Elephant does not require volunteers to schedule shifts or commit to any allocated number of volunteer hours. To volunteer, workers just have to show up and a Brown Elephant employee will put them to work, according to

Illinois Masonic Medical Center

In addition to volunteer opportunities at nonprofit organizations like Lakeview Pantry and The Brown Elephant, Lakeview is also central to volunteer opportunities within the medical community. One local hospital, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, 836 W. Wellington Ave., also relies on locals to shape the infrastructure of the volunteer community.

Shirley Mouratides, coordinator of the services program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, said the hospital offers numerous opportunities where openings change regularly based on the needs of individual departments throughout the hospital.

“We use volunteers in many different capacities,” Mouratides said. “They really help keep the hospital running.”

She said volunteers work in departments such as rehabilitation, diagnostic imaging, surgical intensive care and neonatal intensive care. Volunteers help by answering patients’ call lights and reporting back to the nurse’s station when a patient needs something. Other opportunities include selling newspapers, taking a book cart to patients’ rooms and working at the guest services desk.

Volunteer opportunities in Lakeview are abundant and richly diverse in nature, much like the community itself. Other organizations in the area that rely on volunteers include the Fairygodmother Foundation, Jewish Community Centers of Chicago, The Night Ministry Open Hand Chicago and many more.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit and follow the volunteer link.