Photo of the food pantry in Glenn Ellyn. Food pantries in DuPage county have been working hard to provide food for people in need during the 2020 holiday season. (Finnegan Belleau)
Photo of the food pantry in Glenn Ellyn. Food pantries in DuPage county have been working hard to provide food for people in need during the 2020 holiday season.

Finnegan Belleau

As the holidays approach, local food pantries adapt and continue to serve communities during the pandemic

December 22, 2020

Following Thanksgiving and moving into the winter holidays, volunteers at several food pantries throughout DuPage work to ensure that families and individuals in poor financial situations can remain fed. Many of these operations remain active year-round; however, both donations and traffic can increase moving into the winter months. During the pandemic, distributing food to everyone in need while remaining socially distanced has been an obstacle for food pantries. 

“The Food Pantry has had to reinvent the wheel as to how we distribute food to our clients,” volunteer coordinator at the Glen Ellyn food pantry Terri Venzon said. “We have had to limit the number of volunteers on site for all volunteer shifts. We now call scheduled clients the day of their appointments to get a customized order from them to accommodate their family’s needs. We take pride in trying to keep to as much client choice as we did pre-COVID.”

Volunteers at these food pantries adapted to new health guidelines when distributing food. Volunteers can vary in age with some being teenagers and others being well into their senior years. Therefore, keeping a safe environment is important to these establishments.

You had to follow the current mandates for social distancing and wearing a mask”, volunteer at the Glen Ellyn food pantry junior Sam Birnbaum said. “There was a lot of hand sanitizer there and they were giving out sanitary products if you needed it.”

Many people in the York community are involved in the food pantries, either as volunteers or through donations. Students applying to colleges look to food pantries as a way of accumulating service hours while giving back to the community. York itself ran food drives and fundraising events in prior years. However, with school happening entirely online in 2020, it has been difficult to maintain these events.

“Unfortunately, though, I think one of the biggest things that the board takes on that we have been unable to do is any of our fundraising events,” Christopher Rosenberg, Yorkfield pantry board member, said. “But the generosity of our community has been overwhelming and has really been able to fill that gap to ensure that the pantry is on very strong footings from a financial point of view, and that that’s not a concern for any of us regarding that.”

Students and staff at York are currently given the opportunity to give back to their community by donating food through a Front Door Food Drive. This food drive will continue through Dec. 20, and donors receive the chance to enter a raffle for a prize. All donations will be given to the Yorkfield food pantry. Especially now more than ever, volunteers signify the importance of community service. 

“I would definitely recommend working at a food pantry to other York students,” Birnbaum said. “Although it’s a lot of work, it pays off…The people there are very nice and very welcoming. They all immensely care about what they are doing and it’s nice to do something good during the coronavirus.”

Local businesses have also been supporting food pantries like the Yorkfield pantry. For example, Jewel-Osco provides the pantry with fresh produce for the pantry to give away to its own clients.

“You know, when you go shopping at Jewel you go through a produce section of Jewel, and they have prepackaged items that have fresh-cut fruit in it or premade salads,” Rosenberg said. “There’s a little bit of a life expectancy in what Jewel is able to sell, but the products are still perfectly viable. [Jewel] will then make these products available to the pantry […] so our clients have fresh produce, they have fresh bread, they have meat available.”

With the holidays approaching fast, Rosenberg emphasizes that the work of community volunteers and food pantries in the DuPage community are all the more meaningful to those who don’t have the resources to provide for themselves and that we should stay cognizant of these people in our community.

“The thing that I think is important,” Rosenberg said, “is that a lot of times people say ‘We live in Elmhurst. It’s a wonderful community. People seem to be doing well for themselves, there’s nice houses, nice businesses, nice parks, and nice schools.’ And I think people lose sight of the fact that there are people who live in this community that need help for whatever reason, and that it’s a real need that people have.”

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