Pantries and the PandemicCCFB Helps to Meet Increased Need to Need Families
The effects of the pandemic are far-reaching, affecting every individual in some way and in many cases hugely overhauling what their lives were like before March of 2020. One big change brought about by the pandemic has been the increased need for food assistance. According to Feeding America, food pantries served 55 percent more in 2020 than in the past and in the early days of the pandemic 4 in 10 people visiting food pantries were there for the first time.
As the pandemic lingers on, things are not necessarily getting easier. Stimulus checks are no longer arriving, people who get sick from COVID often go unpaid as they take time off work to battle the virus and recover, some schools have had blocks of time where they’ve been back to e-learning and school provided lunches aren’t waiting in a cafeteria and unemployment has increased due to layoffs, reduced hours and business closures. Keeping Americans fed continues to be a huge challenge and a much more urgent one than it was before March 2020.
Juan Hernandez, who with his wife, Stella, founded Alicia’s House Food Pantry in South Chicago Heights said that in 2019 they provided food to 6,563 households and 22,038 individuals, but in 2020 that jumped to 8,434 households and 34,094 individuals. In 2021, it dropped slightly to 8,074 households and 27,867 individuals, but just a few weeks into 2022, numbers are trending close back to what they were in 2020 during the height of COVID.
When there’s a significant need like this, there’s a lot of help required to get through the large demand. The help comes from many supporters and partners who step up to fill the gap and one has been the Cook County Farm Bureau. Hernandez expressed gratitude for the partnership.
“The Cook County Farm Bureau has been a tremendous blessing to our food pantry. Whenever we have had a need they have gone above and beyond to help. When our food supply was running low they helped to stock our shelves on their Food Checkout Day and also on another occasion donated meat,” he said. “They also helped secure a grant for a new refrigerator, which allows us now to increase the amount of dairy products we are able to supply our families with. We cannot even begin to thank them enough for all they have done to help Alicia's House feed the hungry.”
The CCFB partners included 65 local food pantries, 5 elementary schools and two affiliated for-profit companies during 2020 and 2021. The project directly impacted over 7,400 individuals, engaged 153 association volunteers and 72 community partners.
The focus of the CCFB’s project was threefold: to connect families to farmers who grow and raise healthy and nutritious food while supporting local food insecure families; to raise awareness of area food pantries, their services areas and services proved via social engagement; and to aid food pantries during a time of tremendous need. Through in-person efforts to purchase and deliver food and member donations, raising awareness online and providing grants to local food pantries to expand their food offerings or facilities, the CCFB has made a huge impact in feeding hungry families.
Together We Cope, a food pantry in Tinley Park, was another recipient of aid from CCFB. “Our relationship with the CCFB has been a huge help,” said Tony Roman, Food Pantry Manager of Together We Cope. “We have received meat products as well as money to purchase dairy products for our clients.”
As with other pantries around the country, usage has increased many times over compared to pre-pandemic times. “During the pandemic we have definitely seen an increase of people needing our services here at the pantry. There are many people that found themselves in need for the first time.” said Roman. “The CCFB being able to provide us with product and monetary donations has really helped us get our clients the things they need to get through this pandemic. Without partners like the CCFB, we would be struggling to meet our clients’ needs.”
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, author, blogger and photographer living in Chicago’s south suburbs with her husband and five sons. Her work has appeared in dozens of print and online publications, and she is the author of seven books. A passionate foodie, Carrie thoroughly enjoys traveling and visiting new restaurants and craft breweries, attending food festivals and trying out new recipes and kitchen gadgets. She writes about her food experiences here.