Demand for food pushes Northern Illinois Food Bank to expand services

  • Northern Illinois Food Bank relied on pop-up, drive-through food pantries to safely distribute food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drive-through food pickup events remain a popular resource today.

      Northern Illinois Food Bank relied on pop-up, drive-through food pantries to safely distribute food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drive-through food pickup events remain a popular resource today. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2021

  • Northern Illinois Food Bank uses pop-up events, such as drive-through food pantries, to distribute food to residents. The nearly 40-year-old agency serves residents in 13 counties.

      Northern Illinois Food Bank uses pop-up events, such as drive-through food pantries, to distribute food to residents. The nearly 40-year-old agency serves residents in 13 counties. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2021

  • Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Northern Illinois Food Bank served 285,000 people a month. But that number reached a high of 450,000 people served monthly during the height of the pandemic.

      Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Northern Illinois Food Bank served 285,000 people a month. But that number reached a high of 450,000 people served monthly during the height of the pandemic. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2021

 
Updated 8/1/2022 3:54 PM

As the COVID-19 pandemic and rising food costs have brought new challenges to families, the Northern Illinois Food Bank has introduced new ways to get food into the homes of those who need it.

Social distancing sparked the drive-through, pop-up events held throughout the region that continue to be a popular resource today. The food bank also expanded "My Pantry Express" in the spring of 2021 by partnering with Door Dash to accommodate home deliveries.

 

"We know we can help address the barriers that neighbors are facing if we can provide access in different methods," said Maeven Sipes, chief philanthropy officer for the food bank.

Some people may not feel comfortable going to a food pantry but will swing by one of the food bank's drive-through events to get meals, Sipes said.

With four distribution centers serving 13 counties, Northern Illinois Food Bank has seen an increase in demand for its services. In August, the food bank will open a new facility in Lake Forest, replacing a smaller distribution center in Park City.

At 28,000 square feet, the $1.5 million facility will be nearly three times larger than the Park City center, allowing the food bank to take in more food donations, accommodate more volunteers and help more people.

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"Our vision is for everyone in Northern Illinois to have the food they need to thrive," said Julie Yurko, president and CEO of the food bank.

The food bank, headquartered in Geneva, has three centers in Will, Lake and Winnebago counties. It is one of five organizations selected to receive a $10,000 grant from the Daily Herald Neighbors in Need Fund.

Daily Herald readers helped raise $36,000 to support groups that address homelessness, hunger and health care access. For every dollar donated, the McCormick Foundation donated 50 cents to the fund. The donation helps support general operations at the food bank.

"We would not be able to support our neighbors if we didn't have community support," said Sipes, adding that about 60% of the food bank's budget is covered through donations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The demand for food assistance drastically has increased in recent years, Sipes said.

Before the pandemic, the food bank served 285,000 people per month on average by distributing food directly or through its partner agencies. That number soared to 450,000 at the height of the pandemic. In the last six months, it has stayed around 400,000.

"The need is great, and it's everywhere," Yurko said. "Inflation and rising costs continue to force our neighbors to make tough daily choices with their resources."

As paychecks stretch less, Sipes said getting help from the food bank directly or through one of its partner agencies can help free up money in a family budget to deal with other increased costs, such as fuel.

In addition to opening the new facility in Lake Forest, Sipes said the food bank plans to improve the technology behind the "My Pantry Express" system to aid in processing orders and potentially serving more people. Since July 2021, "My Express Pantry" has grown from initially taking about 600 orders a week to now filling more than 1,500 orders a week.

Learn more about the Northern Illinois Food Bank here.

A grand opening ceremony for the North Suburban Center in Lake Forest is scheduled for Aug. 16 with a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. and an open house from 3 to 7 p.m. The new facility is at 13950 W. Business Center Drive.

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