DuPage County sets aside $1 million to address long-haul needs for food pantries

DuPage County Board members want to help equip food pantries to meet long-term needs.

Board members on Tuesday approved setting aside $1 million to help shore up food pantry infrastructure. Individual food pantry grants could be used to purchase refrigerators, shelving, freezers or other capital needs. Officials said those purchases will benefit food pantries for years to come and aid in the delivery of fresh food to DuPage families.

"The purchase of food is really important, but so is making a longer-lasting impact," said Mary Keating, director of the county's community services department.

Last year, DuPage County Board members set aside $5 million in pandemic relief funds to assist food pantries. To date, the county has awarded $1.5 million to 21 local food pantries to address food insecurity. The county also awarded $1.75 million to the Northern Illinois Food Bank to provide fresh food and produce to partner food pantries.

Keating said area food pantries will be able to apply for grants to cover capital expenses.

Also Tuesday, county board members approved a resolution that would allow six township-run food pantries the option to opt out of the fresh produce program with the Northern Illinois Food Bank. As part of the resolution, the county also set aside $77,406 to help cover food costs for any townships that opt out of the county produce program.

The move comes after Addison Township Supervisor Dennis Reboletti in June expressed concern that some of the produce delivered to the township food pantry was spoiled. Other township officials, however, expressed support for the program, saying the food they have received through the program was not spoiled and was well received by families.

"I think it's unfortunate that we got to the point that the townships had to opt out, and we couldn't fix the problem," county board Sam Tornatore said Tuesday.

The six township food pantries - located in Addison, Bloomingdale, Lisle, Milton, Wayne and York townships - will have 30 days to decide if they want to opt out of the program, Keating said. Those who opt out will receive an allotment, based on the amount of fresh food they would have received, to purchase their own food for distribution.

County officials said they were unsure which food pantries may opt out of the fresh produce program. But they noted recent conversations indicated some will stay with it.

"We felt like the majority of them will continue with this program," county board member Greg Schwarze, who heads the board's human services committee, said.

Keating said $750,000 of the initial $5 million allocation to address food insecurity is not yet earmarked for any programs. She said the county will determine how to use those funds at a later date.

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