Hope Has a New Address
Moody alum Matt DeMateo celebrates opening of food pantry in Little Village, feeding body and soul
Pan De Vida Fresh Market grand opening ceremony on Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Matt DeMateo is executive director of New Life Centers and a Moody alumnus.
Standing in front of the Pan De Vida Fresh Market at 27th and Lawndale in Chicago on Thursday, 2003 Moody alumnus Matt DeMateo had a simple yet powerful message to share at the grand opening of the new food pantry run by New Life Centers.
“Hope has a new address,” said DeMateo, pastor and executive director at New Life Centers in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. “This is a gift, a love letter to our neighborhood and our city. This is proof that when community unites together, amazing things can happen.”
More than 500 friends came together to celebrate the grand opening. Volunteers cut the ribbon as the crowd cheered and a local mariachi band played festive music.
Building the beloved community
Pan De Vida is part of “building the beloved community, the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King to build a space of equity, equality, justice, transformation, and healing,” Matt told the audience gathered for the event in the street alongside the new food pantry.
The new full-time food distribution hub will provide free groceries for families, wraparound services, and connections to community and resources. Downstairs, fresh fruits and vegetables fill bins while wall-to-wall shelves are lined with dry goods and canned food. Refrigerators are stocked with meat, eggs, dairy products, and other items, and three murals painted by artist, Alex Cruz, display characteristics of the neighborhood and ministry, such as a soccer ball, a loaf of bread, and a Bible.
The Pan De Vida Fresh Market offers fresh produce and resources to families experiencing food insufficiency in Little Village and surrounding areas.
Upstairs, a computer lab with long, solid wood tables holds eight iMac computers donated by AT&T. These will be available for young people to use for homework, photo and video editing, music production, graphic design, and other skills.
DeMateo thanked many friends and partners, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository and IMC Chicago Charitable Foundation. But he also directed high praise to the Pan De Vida team—mainly young men and women—“for rising to the challenge and leading with love in this pandemic,” he said. “I want you to know that this was led by 18 to 24 year olds.”
The second floor has a computer lab and space for student homework help and community member digital support.
One of the speakers, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said she was impressed by how New Life models the right behavior, invests time and resources, and “has centered and empowered young people.
“That is one of the great gifts of New Life—having young people being empowered, feeling like they can take on the world and design and envision a future for themselves and their communities, and this is what this new facility is all about.”
Besides assisting with food distribution, up to nine Moody Bible Institute students have served each semester with the after-school homework program at the Little Village location through Moody’s Practical Christian Ministries (PCM). Moody’s PCM program plugs
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaking at the June 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
students into service opportunities in ministries throughout Chicago, from homework centers and homeless shelters to food distribution centers and TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) classes.
“Having PCM students is huge,” said Megan Pawlak-Bodett, La Semilla program instructor who runs New Life’s after-school program. “I really feel like a lot of organizations in the city would suffer if we didn’t have all those PCM students; it’s really nice to have that many adults able to help with the kids. We’re grateful.”
Practical urban ministry
Pastors DeMateo, Paco Amador, and Mark Jobe personally know the value of a Moody Bible education and weekly PCM assignments that help students gain ministry experience and transform lives. All three Moody alumni began working in urban ministry as students.
Jobe, Moody’s president, served with Inner-City Impast for his PCM. He went on to found New Life Community Church (now in 27 locations). In 2005 he created New Life Centers as a separate nonprofit agency to provide mentors for students throughout Chicago.
Current Moody student, Mara Martinez.
DeMateo joined the New Life Centers staff in 2006, and his wife, Sarah (Haglund), a 2002 alumna, ran the church’s after-school program, which today has 2,500 kids participating in neighborhood sports. “I coach the Little League,” DeMateo said.
Current Moody student Mara Martinez, a junior biblical studies/Jewish studies major, serves with Arise Creations, training teen girls on Chicago’s West Side to create jewelry from broken bus glass. A display in Pan De Vida showcases the hand-crafted necklaces and other jewelry pieces for sale, reminding people that beauty can come out of brokenness, Martinez says.
Besides making jewelry with the girls, Martinez’s role is to mentor and teach them Bible truths and to plan fun outings. “I love middle school girls, I love Scripture, and I had started my own jewelry business during COVID,” she said.
Martinez is praying that the job-training mentor program will reach 30 girls in the fall. “Constantly seeking first His kingdom in the ordinary mundane parts of my life is what really equips me to walk with a smile and to love the orphan, the poor, the oppressed,” she said. “That’s where my heart is.”
Ending food insecurity
Prior to the pandemic, New Life Centers fed 100 families a week from the basement of New Life Community Church. As COVID hit, the whole operation moved outside of a produce store across the street. Twice a week cars lined up for blocks to receive boxes of food donated through a partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other donors like Trader Joe’s.
By June 2020 the team was feeding 1,000 families per week and after that up to 6,000 families with food distribution in seven New Life Community Church sites. “In the past 27 months we have fed over 2.2 million people in this very spot,” DeMateo said.
Moody alumni and Chicago pastors: Mark Jobe, Paco Amador, and Matt DeMateo.
When the produce store went up for sale, New Life Centers wondered if they could purchase it. “Our funders raised half a million dollars in three months and bought it for cash,” DeMateo said. It took a year and a half to refurbish the building during COVID, but Pan de Vida opens the week of June 13, 2022.
As one of the last speakers at the grand opening, Paco Amador, Spanish pastor at New Life Community Church in Little Village, told those in attendance that Pan De Vida means “Bread of Life,” a phrase coined by Jesus in John 6:35 of the Bible.
“He said, ‘I am the Bread of Life,’” Amador noted. “This building at the heart of Little Village will forever stand . . . to remind our community of this dual need that we have. Our bodies need to thrive, but our souls also need to thrive. And Jesus is the One who can satisfy both needs.”