A virtual food bank

December 2021 View more

In an ongoing effort to end hunger in our community, Woodridge-based West Suburban Community Pantry successfully launched a virtual program to enable clients to easily order and pick up much-needed groceries and household items.

“The reality of hunger in the United States is not that we don’t have enough food,” explains executive director Laura Coyle. “It’s figuring out how to get that food to the people who need it, and letting them know that it’s available.”

The idea for the virtual pantry came about as WSFP leadership participated in an innovation committee put together by Feeding America. The committee discovered that 70 percent of people in the food stamp/SNAP program faced barriers that prevented them from using a food pantry. Leading factors included time, transportation, pantry location, and feelings of shame. As the committee sought to overcome these barriers, it became clear that online grocery ordering was a proactive solution that would benefit more people.

In 2019, WSCP piloted an online grocery program with the residents of Bridge Communities in Glen Ellyn and was ready to publicly launch the program when COVID hit. “We quickly learned being able to place orders online was a blessing. It’s really helped us have another model that could serve people,” Coyle says.

The virtual pantry (virtualfoodpantry.net) provides free food assistance to residents of DuPage County. Users can simply visit, choose the items they need, and select a pickup location that’s convenient to them.

“We’re trying to find locations where people might already be going or driving past, like libraries and schools, places they are already visiting,” Coyle says. The nonprofit is still working on how to reach those who may not be as technically savvy or have a language barrier to overcome. 

“But so far, it’s been very well received,” says Coyle. “It’s definitely adding an option that allows more people to participate in accessing the food we have.” 

Photo courtesy West Suburban community Pantry