Mackinaw Village officials are hoping the community’s new community center and food pantry will bring the close-knit town closer together.

Opened last September, the Mackinaw Community Center and Food Pantry at 101 S. Orchard St. was started to meet two basic needs.

The first need for a community center came from the village’s overall lack of such a type of building.

“There really wasn’t a place in Mackinaw for people if they wanted to get together and have a wedding reception or graduation party or anything like that,” Mackinaw Village President Craig Friend said.

Jessica Sidwell, the center’s director who helped spearhead the development of the community center and food pantry, said she saw the need for a food pantry while working at Mackinaw’s Village Office.

“People would come in asking, ‘Do you know where I could get help for my heating bill?’ And I got to thinking, ‘Well where do they go get food?’” Sidwell said. “There are places to go, but it’s just more convenient for people to help people within their own community. I think that’s important. And it’s important for the people who donate too, because you want to help the people living next door to you.”

On the community center side, the village has hosted quarter auctions, movie nights, painting classes and programs for children. The village also rents out the area for $50 a day for residents and $100 for non-residents,

“It’s been well received. It’s busy a few times a week,” Friend said. “We let nonprofit groups use it like 4H, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts because we figure it’s a nice place to meet at. Anything to help the community.”

On the food pantry side, Sidwell and volunteers pack boxes of food to give away to those in need on the first Wednesday of each month.

The food pantry is funded through donations and will eventually become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Sidwell plans to start a “Second Helping” program for the summer that would provide lunch-time meals for children who would normally be eating in school.

“Ideally, I’d like to see the food pantry go away because that would mean there’s no one starving or needing food, but that’s not going to happen,” Friend said. “I hate to see an adult go hungry, but I really hate to see a kid go to bed hungry or wake up without breakfast.”

Sidwell estimates the pantry is consistently used by nearly 30 people every month.

“People count on this now,” Sidwell said. “It’s such a good feeling to be able to help because the people who come in are pretty much family now.”

Mackinaw Village Treasurer Scott Eidenmiller holds Sidwell’s and the town’s effort to help in high regards.

“(Sidwell) has done a very good job. Part of the issue is, and without getting into all the politics, but the state budget has yet to be done,” Eidenmiller said. “They’ve taken care of higher education, but they’ve yet to do anything for social services, so you are seeing more and more communities pull together and fulfill those needs for social services. What Mackinaw is doing is cool. They’ve had good donations and good support. They’ve been very fortunate.”

Donations for the food pantry can be dropped off at the center or at the Mackinaw Village Office.

For more information on the center or food pantry, contact Sidwell at Jessica@mackinawillinois.org.