With the demand for nutritious food and social service support up nearly 70% over the previous fiscal year, West Suburban Community Pantry in Woodridge instituted a wide range of innovative approaches to meet the unprecedented demand, serving 110,000 individuals in 2023.
Approximately two-thirds of those served came from DuPage County, with the remaining third from Will County. More than 50% of customers were adults, 30% were children and just under 20% were seniors, according to a WSCP news release.
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced this year was the ability to source nutritious fresh foods and culturally preferred choices for customers as demand grows. The organization has expanded the food rescue partnerships, which in 2023 provided 780,000 pounds of fresh food and supplies that augment food bought from Northern Illinois Food Bank. In addition to area grocers, rescue partners include produce distributors Sunterra Chicago and Atom Banana, local produce grower The Farm, and online value grocer Misfits Markets. More than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce was grown by local garden clubs and churches this summer.
The pantry takes pride in offering a variety of non-dairy options, vegan items, diabetic-friendly choices and halal foods among the selections available.
“We let people choose what is best for their family – how much they need to feed their family for the week – offering foods they love and want,” pantry CEO Suzanne Armato said in the release. “We’ve had to alter the way we source food significantly this year, but we are resolute by leading with compassion and care. We put our neighbor’s needs first.”
As the lines grow longer, the diversity of customers also grows. In 2023, people served by West Suburban Community Pantry spoke 17 different languages. As the pantry continues to dedicate itself to removing barriers to food and support, the organization has used the services of the Language Access Resource Center to translate informational literature into several languages.
The introduction of Instant Language Assistant, a device that allows individuals to communicate with others in different languages either verbally or by keying in words or phrases, means staff and volunteers can welcome customers, introduce them to the pantry services and assist with check-in and registration in multiple languages. The pantry hopes to buy additional ILA devices in the coming year. Pantry shelves are labeled in several languages, and WSCP is pursuing offering ESL classes in cooperation with the College of DuPage.
Every person who visits West Suburban Community Pantry has access to its support services offerings, which have been expanded to address the quality of life and stability of the customers it serves. The program offers short-term case management, mental health support and various wellness programs supported by community partners, including nutrition education and wellness through the University of Illinois Extension.
Support Services offers help applying for public programs, including SNAP and utility assistance, and connects families and individuals to more than 80 community partners offering additional social support.
“People may come to us because they are struggling to afford groceries, but often that’s just one symptom of whatever crisis they are experiencing,” Armato said. “Our support services allow us to help our community in a holistic way.”
West Suburban Community Pantry increases access to nutritious foods through an in-person Woodridge-based market, online ordering, senior home delivery and child nutrition programs in local school districts. WSCP also offers support services – case management, connecting individuals and families to community and government assistance, as well as providing wellness workshops.See Article