Donate food in Chicago at these historic and well-organized food pantries and food banks, with links to donation pages, and volunteer opportunities.
Let’s get a few things straight right up front: Nobody needs a fruitcake. Nobody is so down on their luck that they will—or should—tuck into whatever eldritch paste and larval gemstones comprise this enduring holiday doorstop. Do not donate them. For everything else, though—from cans of beans to boxes of powdered milk—here are the best places in the City of Big Shoulders to drop off a box of chow.
But before that, let’s talk about what we’re talking about when we talk about donating food. Hunger in America is growing, and the pandemic has made it worse. According to the USDA, “10.5% of American households were food insecure at least sometime during 2019.” When compiled, the economic effects of COVID-19 will probably show that number (about 35 million people) came close to the projected 50 million people were hungry at some point in 2020. Seventeen million of them were children.
Hunger in Chicago doesn’t recognize neighborhoods or zip codes. Every community will have someone experiencing food insecurity.
Which is Where You Come In
According to Feeding America, many households experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs. They rely on local food banks and similar organizations. When you donate to a food bank, you are helping people in your broader community in a very real, very direct, very effective way, by feeding them.
Below are resources to help you get your food to the right place, so your donations go to the hungry as quickly and effectively as possible.
Start with Feeding America
There’s a reason I cited this organization’s statistics. Its message and mission are clear and direct: Hunger affects people in all communities. However, there are some groups more likely to experience food insecurity: children, seniors, people in poverty, people in rural areas, Latinos, and African Americans. Feeding America’s mission is to address the root causes of hunger by educating the public about systemic inequities that tend to affect marginalized communities. To do this, they network with 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs across the U.S. You can use their online tools to learn about hunger in your neighborhood—and to find the nearest organization so you can donate food and volunteer.
Learn More from The Greater Chicago Food Depository
This 40-year-old organization works with Feeding America and over 700 food pantries in Cook county. Its mission focuses on the Feeding America mission local, monitoring how hunger and food insecurity around Chicago evolves so they can better serve emerging and diverse groups. Their goal in addressing the root cause of hunger means they aim to take hunger off the table so families can focus on education, growth, and security. With their new Nourish Program, The Greater Chicago Food Depository is erecting new facilities and ramping up services to meet the existing and emergent food security emergencies brought on by Covid-19. You can get involved here, or take part in their virtual food drive, here. To donate food, call the hotline, and follow the prompts: 773.247.3663.
Donate Food to Lakeview Pantry
This is one of Chicago’s longest-serving food pantries, offering food, mental wellness, and social services. In 2019 they distributed 2.3 million meals, many of them delivered directly to people in the Lakeview neighborhood who are unable to leave their homes. Visit the website to learn how and where to donate food.
Donate Food and More at Beyond Hunger
This food pantry gives clear instructions on how you can donate food—including what they’re looking for currently. Formerly the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, they changed their name to better represent their mission, which is to end hunger in the 13 zip codes across Cook County they serve from their space provided by the First United Church of Oak Park.
Wash Dishes at All Saints Episcopal Church’s Food Pantry
Every Tuesday, along with Ravenswood Community Services, this church offers a hot meal and basic groceries to more than 300 people. During that time, parishioner Julie Donalek and a team of RNC nurses offer basic screenings, health education, and referrals. Twice yearly, they transform their community kitchen into a white linen restaurant with a maitré de, waitstaff, beverage services, live entertainment, and menus offering entrees cooked by a professional chef. They are still working, offering to-go meals during the pandemic. (Full disclosure, I had just started as a volunteer dishwasher here before the pandemic and I am eager to return to that hot humid kitchen to help the staff knock out a much-needed meal for the needy.) If you want to donate food, you can learn more here.
Hunger in the Collar Counties
Outside of Chicago and Cook county, check with your county government office, your school district, or local churches for information on donating in your neighborhood. For example, the Northern Illinois Food Bank partners with 900 feeding programs across 13 counties, including Lake county, where HFR is headquartered. To find information on a food pantry or soup kitchen near you, use the NFIB locator map here.
NIFB is part of the larger Feeding American organization. To volunteer your time or funds, or help in any way, visit SolveHungerToday.org.
Image © iStockphoto/SyhinStas