The West Suburban Community Pantry headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois in the Chicago suburbs, has announced it is moving ahead with a campaign designed to increase its capacity to serve children, families and seniors in need with food assistance, and grow its service area through client-centered delivery innovations including on-line food ordering and localized pick up.
“Our goal is to allow client choice while maintaining a safe delivery system that we can implement as efficiently as possible,” says Laura Coyle, Executive Director. “The past several months of pivoting the way we get food to people during the pandemic has shown us the benefits of this expanded model.” Prior to the pandemic, the Pantry was serving clients on-site through a “grocery-store” model. Once COVID -19 shut down the Pantry Store and limited volunteer participation The Pantry needed to change to pre-packed boxes and drive-up delivery.
Since March, the Pantry has been supplying a wide range of nutritious food to up to 150 families per service while social distancing and keeping clients, staff and volunteers safe. The Pantry also continues to serve DuPage PADS and Bridge Communities partners at a critical time, and served an increased demand for food from 20 families to 65 at their in-school pantry at Irene King Elementary School in Romeoville. Now the pantry is ready to pilot an online-ordering system with select mobile locations.
The campaign, Access 2020: Building Capacity, Breaking Down Barriers will enable the Pantry to double the number of people served by 2030. “Good nutrition is critical to maintaining good health and daily function. That’s pretty tough when you don’t have access to fresh protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. With recent job-losses, home-schooling and difficulty accessing other support services, demand is greater than ever,” says Coyle. “We cannot be the same old pantry. We must find more effective ways to deliver food wherever the need is. What we’ve learned in the last four months is that we can serve considerably more people safely with pre-boxed orders and drive-up. By allowing people to order ahead on-line, we can give families the choice of items they desire. The system also eliminates the potential of items unwanted by clients going to waste.”
The Pantry was recently part of a nation-wide initiative led by Feeding America which studied the practical and emotional barriers to food sufficiency. Leading factors are shame, fear, pride, time, transportation, mobility, child care and youth or age. As a result of the study, in 2019 the Pantry launched a pilot program leveraging technology to provide on-line ordering and local pick up to a number of Bridge Communities’ residential sites. A major component of Access2020 is expansion of the on-line ordering and pick up program to the greater community.
“It’s the goal of the Pantry to reach all families who face hunger. Our biggest challenge is that 28,000 people live in poverty in the communities we serve. Our research indicates that only 1 in 5 of those people use the Pantry” says Coyle. “With the Access 2020 plan, we aim to continue to expand our reach to serve those who may want to use a traditional food pantry, when that is available again, as well as those who might require a different approach like online ordering, local pick up, mobile pantries or school-based services. We have to treat each person’s situation with respect and compassion.”
The campaign is currently working to raise $600,000 in order to implement changes to the existing 10,000 square feet of store front, warehouse and office space at the Woodridge Pantry including:
- Expanding the efficiency and capacity of the warehouse space
- New technology for on-site on-line order station and enhanced inventory system
- Increasing the capacity to serve at Woodridge Pantry and eliminate current parking barriers with addition of onsite online order center and dedicated drive-up pickup area
- Updating waiting room and private intake offices to enhance the dignity of the WSCP shopping experience once COVID restrictions allow.
- Relocating administrative offices and conference/classroom space to existing Annex
- Creating a dedicated food donation receiving station
- Investing in additional off-site distribution capacity with additional truck, cooler boxes
In conjunction with the On-line order system, the Pantry plans to have pick-up sites in high-need areas as well as at the Woodridge Pantry. Over time, WSCP will begin offering the service to the neighborhoods and towns that surround the five Bridge Communities neighborhoods, in order to streamline delivery and test how the program works with a larger service area.