Food insecurity, a problem for a significant number of Evanston residents, rose during the past several months. According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, an estimated 19% of Evanston residents or 13,945 people were at risk prior to the pandemic. Fortunately, the increase in need appears to be met though food pantries supplied by the food depository and through the City of Evanston and other local organizations.
People served through food pantries and soup kitchens located in Evanston and affiliated with the Greater Chicago Food Depository increased to over 10,600 in April and May, from about 7,650 in January, prior to the onset of the pandemic.
The City of Evanston opened a food pantry in James Park in mid-April to meet residents’ food needs. Indira Perkins of the City’s Department of Health and Human Services said City officials started to hear that people did not have access to food and did not know where to go to get food in late March. “People had been laid off. Some had applied to SNAP and did not get immediate assistance,” she said.
The response to the pantry was overwhelming, said Ms. Perkins. “We gave out close to 300 boxes of food that first week, including 50 boxes that we delivered to seniors.” The City received just under $120,000 in donations, including $25,000 from Northwestern University and $5,000 from the Chessmen Club of the Northshore, to fund purchases of food from Valli International Fresh Market. The pantry has distributed over 4,000 food boxes serving an estimated 1,200 people through the end of May. The pantry, initially open weekly, now operates every other Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In addition to safe access to food, residents have needed assistance with figuring out how to navigate the state unemployment website to file claims, help with securing SNAP benefits, and monetary assistance for rent, mortgage and utilities.
The City of Evanston’s General Assistance and Emergency Assistance programs received over 200 applications during the pandemic, a significant increase compared to typical requests, said Ike Ogbo, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services. These requests included help to obtain unemployment and SNAP benefits in addition to monetary grants for rent, mortgage and utilities. About $226,000 has been granted under both programs though the end of April. The annual budget is $855,600.
The City of Evanston is conducting an individual needs assessment to determine how best to address community needs. Initial survey results indicate that residents value emergency response services relating to COVID-19, and access to food, household supplies and medication. Important concerns include community safety, household members becoming infected, the emotional health of household members and the economic impact of the pandemic.
The assessments remain open through the end of June and are online at cityofevanston.org/recovery. A Spanish version of the Individual survey, 311 and paper completion are also options. More detailed results will be available later this summer.