Austin food pantries see big demand
West Side pantries stepping up amid COVID-19 pandemic
By MATEUSZ JANIK
Last month, nearly 100 families came to the food pantry at St. Martin de Porres Church to get food, and for some, it was the first time they’ve sought help in this way.
Attendance at the Austin church’s food pantry was up from the 60 to 70 families who usually seek help on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the church distributes food.
“Our pantry has been hit hard the past two weeks, which I’m sure is the same all across the city. But I think that there probably will be a need for more donations,” said Leon William, a volunteer at the food bank.
“Whether it’s from individuals or corporations, I think any food bank or pantry would appreciate more donations.”
The coronavirus has made life hard for low-income residents already struggling to feed their families – and created new hardship for others who are now suddenly unemployed or underemployed. Food banks have seen an influx of people as essential businesses like groceries aren’t able to restock the essentials fast enough.
“A lot of seniors are on a fixed income and don’t have the ability to just go out and stock up on things,” said Sgt. Jermaine Harris of the 15th District. “We’re just reaching out to the pantries and letting them know how we can help.”
Using an emergency response list with registered seniors, Harris said the 15th District has been checking on home-bound residents regularly and has identified available resources for other residents from pantries like St. Martin de Porres and Hope Community Church, 5900 W. Chicago St.
Although Harris said they are not trying to recruit volunteers due to the state-ordered shelter-in-place order, which the governor has extended through April 30, he’s thankful for the Islamic Community Outreach’s donation gloves and sanitizers.
For the last decade, Hope Community Church has provided resources through its food bank every Friday from 12 to 2 p.m. – and that will continue during the pandemic.
“This is a very difficult time, but we are working through all of these issues together,” said Rev. Steve Epting, pastor of Hope Community Church. “This allows us an opportunity to provide comfort and assurance to our residents, while still providing the support necessary.”
Epting said the church been been providing resources to the 15th District for delivery and also opened a text group for the community, connecting residents with other opportunities for assistance. Residents can text “THEHOPECITY” to 64600 for updates.
As for Westside Health Authority and its Good Neighbor Campaign, the social service agency has been in constant contact with about 2,000 individuals who are a part of their care network to see what they need and then supplies are delivered to their door.
James Coleman, director of community wellness at Westside Health Authority, said the organization, which has multiple locations in Austin, could use donations of water, toilet paper, and dry or canned goods that they will then deliver to seniors. And he encourages West Siders to check in with the older residents in their neighborhood.
“There’s a group of seniors that are living a life where they don’t have a voice, and they aren’t really checked on as often as they should” be, Coleman said. “Just get out there and door knock to check on people, and if you can, try talking with them from distance through their door.”
Another Austin organization, Fraternite Notre Dame, 502 N. Central Ave., is working alongside Westside Health Authority to provide food for delivery. The Fraternite Notre Dame continues to operate its food pantry every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m.
Residents may contact the 15th District with questions at (312) 743-1495 or by email at CAPS015District@chicagopolice.org. The Westside Health Authority and the Good Neighbor Campaign can be contacted with requests at (773) 951-6737. And residents who have a question about getting resources delivered or want to volunteer are encouraged to call Hope Community Church at (773) 921-2243 and leave a message. Residents can also find a food pantry, soup kitchen, mobile food distribution or shelter in Cook County by clicking here on the Greater Chicago Food Depository.