Bellwood Library Launches Free Food Pantry Named After Well-Known Volunteer

Connie Riales cuts the ribbon on March 17 to mark the launch of the Connie Riales Little Free Pantry flanked by Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, far right, and Bellwood Library Board President Dorothy Clark-Smith. | Michael Romain 

Thursday, March 17, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Community members in need of food, toiletries and other necessities have another place to get them now that the Bellwood Public Library has debuted its free food pantry. 

On March 17, library officials and other community leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Connie Riales Little Free Pantry, which is a refurbished file cabinet placed outside of the library, 600 Bohland Ave. 

Riales, a member of the Bellwood Public Library Board of Trustees, is well-known across Proviso Township for her heart of service. Naming a pantry in her honor was a no-brainer, said Bellwood Public Library Director Amy Crump. 

Crump said Riales is active in local food pantries in the township and also regularly maintains and stocks the community refrigerator that’s currently outside of the childhood home in Maywood of slain Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. 

“Knowing how involved she is in that, it seemed like a natural thing to honor her efforts by naming the pantry after her,” Crump said. 

Bellwood Library Director Amy Crump, second from left, during the March 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the library’s new food pantry. | Michael Romain 

Crump explained that community members can access the pantry 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pantry includes food, toiletries and miscellaneous items like forks and paper towels. 

“We did a canned food drive all month in February, so we started collecting things and the goal was to use them to start the free pantry,” Crump said. 

Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, who attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, echoed Crump’s opinion of Riales. 

“Can you imagine one person who does as much for so many? It’s just a blessing that there are no borders or lines she will not cross to support Bellwood and Maywood, because she does a lot of work for the entire [Proviso] community,” the mayor said. 

“You are a true server — you serve this community and all communities very well,” Dorothy Clark-Smith, the Bellwood library board president, told Riales. 

The free food pantry outside of the Bellwood library includes not only food, but also toiletries and other miscellaneous items. | Michael Romain 

Riales, who was born and raised in Maywood before moving to Bellwood, said she’s been a regular at the library since her days as an adult literacy volunteer. 

“Twice a week, I would volunteer for the literacy program,” she said. “I used to teach adults how to read downstairs and I’ve been coming to this library ever since then.” 

More recently, Riales started a volunteer program at Roosevelt Middle School in Bellwood, in which she selects students to serve as community ambassadors who participate in a range of volunteer initiatives, particularly for senior citizens. 

Riales said she invited some students in her program to the ribbon-cutting to show them that service often pays off in ways that matter most. 

“I invited my community service leaders from Roosevelt to see the end result of what happens when you volunteer your time for other people,” Riales said. “It doesn’t take much for you to help somebody who needs help. There is always room for one more and my doors are always opened for one more.” 

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