With food insecurity a major concern as the pandemic enters the winter months, City officials have mapped out a new system to make meals more available to needy families, including pop up pantries in some neighborhoods. 

At the Nov. 23 City Council meeting, aldermen approved a recommendation from City staff and the Mayor’s COVID-19 Food Insecurity Team to use up to $150,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money targeted to address COVID-19 to fund a program at Curt’s Café.

Under the program, Curt’s Café, a non-profit business venture, will hire unemployed/underemployed residents impacted by COVID-19 to sort, pack, and distribute food boxes, Audrey Thompson, the City’s Community Services Manager, said in a memo.

Meanwhile, at the recommendation of the COVID-19 Food Insecurity Team, the City will be changing its system for getting meals to residents.

To date, reported Ms. Thompson, “a large part of the emergency food assistance has been in the form of prepared meals (up to 2,800 meals a week as of late September) financed by private fundraising efforts, and slated to end in December.”

The City of Evanston emergency food pantry at James Park and The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Producemobile, which distributes free shelf-stable food and fresh fruits and vegetables on a first-come, first-served basis outside the Levy Senior Center at 300 Dodge Ave., both operate on a monthly basis.

 “Additionally, while Evanston has several food pantries,” Ms. Thompson noted, “residents in some neighborhoods may have increased challenges to accessing those resources due to transportation and childcare issues, and availability.”

Ms. Thompson named a number of steps that the Food Insecurity Team is proposing in an effort to “maintain access to food, reduce the cost per meal served, and ensure that more residents are being provided food for a longer period of time.”

The two main prongs of this effort will be funding pop-up pantries and referring those receiving prepared meals from the private ad-hoc sources to existing congregate meal programs.

Pop-Up Pantries

The team has identified possible sites for bi-monthly pop-up pantries, all in high-need areas: Family Focus, C&W Market and Connections for the Homeless in west Evanston in census tract 8092; and Oakton School and Kamen Park in south Evanston, in census tracts 8102 and 8101.

These new sites will be in neighborhoods that qualify as eligible for CDBG-CV funding (minimum 51% low/moderate-income residents) with limited access to existing food pantries, Ms. Thompson said.

Residents who do not require prepared meals will have several opportunities to receive groceries through the existing and expanded pantry network, Ms. Thompson said. Other locations may be identified based on community need and federal eligibility criteria, she said.

Congregate Food Programs

The plan is to transition those who require and receive prepared meals from the ad hoc privately funded sources to existing programs or to wean them from prepared meals to the food-box distribution.

Meals on Wheels, Council for the Jewish Elderly (CJE) or the Levy Senior Center Congregate Meal Program are the main congregate-meal programs here, Ms. Thompson said.

Access to the food boxes from Curt’s Café will be limited to individuals currently receiving prepared meals as a first effort, then opened up to all households in need, Ms. Thompson said.

The City will launch an information campaign to build awareness of other food resources, including a new text-based registration process for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the location and schedule for all food pantries in Evanston.

Food Boxes

Altogether, the City received $1,586,370 in CDBG federal assistance to address the needs of homeless and unstably housed families and individuals and other impacts of the coronavirus, Ms. Thompson said in her memo.

The number of food boxes prepared for each distribution will be based on registration by Evanston residents, she said.

Created in April of this year, the Food Insecurity Team is addressing the increased food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Feeding America estimated that 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure in 2018, before this pandemic,” Ms. Thompson wrote.

“This number equates to over 37 million Americans, including 11 million children who were food insecure in 2018. According to the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Illinois unemployment rate at the end of August was 10.2 percent. With the ongoing economic challenges from COVID-19, food insecurity continues to be a high need.”

At the Nov. 23 City Council meeting, aldermen unanimously approved the grant to Curt’s Café, which will fund the packing of approximately 500 boxes per month for three months and the distribution of these boxes via pop-up pantries in selected sites in high-need neighborhoods.

“This is really amazing,” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th, Ward, said of the plan. “This is quite a project.”

 

 

 

How the New Food Distribution System Will Work

 

City’s Community Services Manager offered an overview of how the new food distribution and pop-up pantries will work when the program goes into operation in the next few weeks.

Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 9, residents who are currently receiving groceries or prepared meals provided through a grant to area restaurants and businesses will be provided first priority for the new mobile pop-up pantries.

If a person who is currently receiving groceries or prepared meals is unable to shop for and/or prepare food, and still requires prepares meals, Ms. Thompson said, he/she may sign up to receive meals through Meals on Wheels, City of Evanston Senior Congregate Meals, or CJE Home Delivered Meal Programs.

Several food-pantry options are available to people able to prepare their own meals, she said.

In addition, the City is offering eligible Evanston residents new short-term pop-up pantry options twice per month, Ms. Thompson said. To qualify, an Evanston resident must meet at least one of the following criteria:

 

·       Having a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic;

·       Being ineligible or awaiting for approval for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits; or

·       Being unaware and/or not having applied for SNAP benefits and need assistance to apply.

If an Evanston resident is currently a recipient of groceries or prepared meals through the aforementioned community grants and meets the above criteria, he/she must register by calling the Evanston Public Library, Mondays and Tuesdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at 847-448-8630. Anyone calling outside of those hours should leave a message or call Evanston 311 for more information.

 

“As we continue to facilitate these pop-up pantries in Evanston communities, we will continue to reassess and add eligible residents to the list of those to receive food,”

Ms. Thompson said. “In other words, while the goal is to ensure that those who are currently receiving groceries or prepared meals through the grant will continue receiving food during this transition period, we don’t want to exclude others who are in need of food and meet the above criteria. Moreover, we want to build strategies that are sustainable and resilient and this is the first step to attain this goal. We are building a long-term plan for food insecurity and this also means ensuring that eligible residents apply and receive SNAP benefits which will allow them to shop and choose their own foods.  We must annihilate food insecurity through several targeted strategies.”

 

How the New Food Distribution System Will Work ?

City’s Community Services Manager Audrey Thompson offered an overview of how the new food distribution and pop-up pantries will work when the program goes into operation in the next few weeks.

Beginning Dec. 9, residents who are currently receiving groceries or prepared meals provided through a grant to area restaurants and businesses will be provided first priority for the new mobile pop-up pantries.

If a person who is currently receiving groceries or prepared meals is unable to shop for and/or prepare food, and still requires prepares meals, Ms. Thompson said, he/she may sign up to receive meals through Meals on Wheels, City of Evanston Senior Congregate Meals, or CJE Home Delivered Meal Programs.

Several food-pantry options are available to people able to prepare their own meals, she said.

In addition, the City is offering eligible Evanston residents new short-term pop-up pantry options twice per month, Ms. Thompson said. To qualify, an Evanston resident must meet at least one of the following criteria:

·       Having a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic;

·       Being ineligible or awaiting for approval for SNAP benefits; or

·       Being unaware and/or not having applied for SNAP benefits and need assistance to apply.

If an Evanston resident is currently a recipient of groceries or prepared meals through the aforementioned community grants and meets the above criteria, he/she must register by calling the Evanston Public Library, Mondays and Tuesdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at 847-448-8630. Anyone calling outside of those hours should leave a message or call Evanston 311 for more information.

“As we continue to facilitate these pop-up pantries in Evanston communities, we will continue to reassess and add eligible residents to the list of those to receive food,” Ms. Thompson said. “In other words, while the goal is to ensure that those who are currently receiving groceries or prepared meals through the grant will continue receiving food during this transition period, we don’t want to exclude others who are in need of food and meet the above criteria. Moreover, we want to build strategies that are sustainable and resilient and this is the first step to attain this goal. We are building a long-term plan for food insecurity and this also means ensuring that eligible residents apply and receive SNAP benefits which will allow them to shop and choose their own foods.  We must annihilate food insecurity through several targeted strategies.”