PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — When Charles Martin transformed his porch into a community pantry to help feed his neighbors during the pandemic, he thought it would be for a short amount of time.

Three years later, Porch Pantry Peoria has transformed from a pandemic passion project into a network of community members helping neighbors.

“Honestly I didn’t think we were going to last this long, because we thought we were just going to put some stuff out when the heart of the pandemic hit. We were going to help some people out and be done. As we’ve done this more and more, we’ve noticed the demand and the need is still out there,” said Martin, vice president of operations at Porch Pantry Peoria.

The pantry consists of multiple cabinets and coolers containing food, household items, hygiene products, clothing, shoes and more. The most popular items are non-perishable goods and grab-and-go foods.

Martin said 30 to 50 people drop by Porch Pantry every day. At one to two pounds per person each day, that’s more than 18,000 pounds of food per year.

“It’s crazy the amount of people we see up here… 90 percent of the people we see here between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. are homeless,” he said.

Martin added a community garden in 2021 after a local church donated wood and dirt. The garden provided an additional 12,000 pounds of food last year.

“The community garden is great because everyone loves fresh vegetables and fresh fruits,” he said.

Porch Pantry’s Facebook group boasts more than 5,200 members, creating a network connecting needs to donations.

“We have a network where you have people that donate, people that have stuff, people that need stuff. And when they post it, you have a network of people for them,” he said.

Martin said he hopes to expand and renovate the porch this year. He is also pushing the city to allow backyard chickens in order to provide eggs.

“The benefits of having a backyard chicken… One, it helps fight mosquitoes, it helps fight against bugs. The other thing is two, people can be self-sufficient… Don’t just think of it just as having farm animals, think of the benefits that you’re going to have from that, and what can it do to impact your community. That’s the big thing. What can chickens do for the people we serve,” he said.

Martin said he cannot imagine his life without Porch Pantry and the community connections cultivated in the past three years.

“It’s very rewarding. People come up all the time and say if it hadn’t been for you my family wouldn’t have eaten. Or if it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have clothes on my back,” he said.

Porch Pantry Peoria is located at 1122 North Ellis St. in South Peoria.

How to Donate:

Venmo: Charles-Martin-297
CashApp: $PorchPantry2020