West Suburban Community Pantry has always been proud of our ability to reach people efficiently and cost-effectively. The plan to expand our distribution to more people is no exception. We evaluated several options to reach more of the population in poverty in our area, and none proved more efficient than reconfiguring our current space, which we occupy on a forgivable mortgage.
In order to maximize the capacity of our Woodridge Pantry, we worked with multiple general contractors to bid the remodel work. Their estimates and our ability to secure some donated materials led to the overall budget estimate of less than $600,000.
A Successful Pilot:
One of WSCP’s most exciting new initiatives is the development and expansion of an Online Ordering Program. Online Ordering will enable food pantry clients to select nutritious groceries through a website or app and then pick up their custom order at a convenient location. Online, WSCP guarantees clients consistent access to healthy items as defined by the USDA MyPlate guidelines.
Online Ordering will alleviate the practical and emotional barriers. Additionally, it will enable WSCP to feed more people without having to expand our physical location.
Communities we serve with above-average levels of poverty or high levels of income inequality include the Addison, Bolingbrook, Darien, Downers Grove, Lisle, Romeoville, Westmont, Willowbrook, and Woodridge. Despite the need, these communities are under-represented among the clients that come to WSCP’s on-site Woodridge location.
By bringing Online Order distribution sites to these areas, we know we are helping to improve access to nutritious food. WSCP is seeking locations to offer online ordering that have high concentrations of populations in need, including schools, apartment complexes, and community organizations.
Why Online Ordering:
During FY19, WSCP conducted an Online Ordering Pilot Program to learn how to best provide this service to clients. WSCP partnered with Bridge Communities, a transitional housing organization located in DuPage County, Illinois. Of the households WSCP served in the pilot program, 40% were Black and 20% were Hispanic and a full 90% were single-parent households, overwhelmingly, single mothers.
Finding ways to access proper nutritious, healthy food is a key goal for Bridge residents. Many residents have their first job after many years, some have limited access to transportation, and many are working at full capacity. Traveling to a pantry can be challenging and it can also feed the stigma families area already battling. Bridge residents were a great trial group for this project.
Bridge shoppers were able to choose from a variety of shelf-stable goods and nutritious perishable foods including low-fat milk, whole grains, protein, eggs, and fresh produce. Shoppers could indicate on the website whether they have a food allergy or any other dietary restriction. WSCP delivered custom individual orders to the apartment complex where residents could pick up on a scheduled day.
The Online Ordering Pilot Program has been tremendously successful. We fed more than 100 additional families without expanding the Pantry’s physical space. Feedback from the participants in the pilot was overwhelmingly positive. Clients said that the website is user-friendly, the food choices and amounts met their family’s needs, and the pick-up time and location was convenient.
Now, as we expand the program we will have pick-up sites in high-need areas and the Pantry. In FY20, we will begin offering the service to the neighborhoods and towns that surround the five Bridge Communities, in order to streamline delivery and test how the program works with a larger service area.
While our school-based pantry at Irene King Elementary School in Romeoville serves school families, a supplemental distribution to the surrounding community could be added using online ordering. 87% of Irene King students are on free or reduced-price lunch and 50% of students are Hispanic. Barriers to food access are particularly high for the Hispanic community, including language barriers and fear that sharing information with the pantry may mean consequences for them or someone they know. We plan to add sites at other schools where significant numbers of students are receiving free or reduced-price lunch in the future.
The expansion from pilot to additional locations will happen over several years in manageable increments. Our goal is to reach 3,000 of the 5,000 people we project we can reach through this program within the next five years.
We envision a community without hunger.