In the News: Chicago Tribune, Oak Park-based food pantry Beyond Hunger to stay open amid COVID-19 pandemic

By STEVE SCHERING
PIONEER PRESS
MAR 17, 2020 

As jobs and work losses mount amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Oak Park-based food pantry Beyond Hunger says it plans to remain open to anyone who is in need of assistance.

The pantry, which operates in the lower level of First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St., is also seeking additional donations to help those in need.

“We know those we serve will be hit hardest amid COVID-19 infection concerns,” executive director Michele Zurakowski said. “Due to a decline in shopping, dining, entertainment and travel, our clients will suffer collateral damage, losing valuable work hours or losing their jobs. The need for food assistance will likely increase. We expect that some neighbors may need to visit our food pantry for the first time.”

Volunteers help out at Oak Park-based food pantry Beyond Hunger, which aims to remain open to serve local residents in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Zurakowski stresses that food assistance is judgment free, and families and individuals worried about paying their bills and affording groceries should feel comfortable accessing such benefits.

Earlier this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants in the state closed to the public, a move likely to affect thousands of workers and households

In response, Beyond Hunger is asking for individual donations of money and goods such as shampoo or soap. Thanks to its purchasing power, just $1 allows Beyond Hunger to provide three meals, officials said.

The organization does not need toilet paper thanks to an ongoing donation from the Michael Lewis Company, officials said.

Donations are accepted between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday.

Beyond Hunger is not seeking additional volunteers at this time in order to maintain safe social distancing. Officials say the organization is able to cover its needs with a small group of core volunteers, however, additional volunteers will be needed when normal operations resume and the summer meals program begins.

“Our primary concern is for the health of our clients, volunteers and team,” Zurakowski said. “While we remain open to serve, we are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for community organizations and making modifications to our programs, where needed.”

Beyond Hunger recently entered a partnership with two Chicago police officers who work in the 15th precinct in the Austin neighborhood after the officers asked for assistance for several residents who require extra care.

“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we’ve been looking for to meet the needs of people where they live,” Zurakowski said, adding the lack of food in grocery stores and concerns of exposure may lead to some residents having a hard time getting groceries.

To serve those in a similar situation, Beyond Hunger says Chicago residents can register neighbors or themselves with the police department if there is a wellness concern, such as dementia, mobility issues or other health troubles.

Beyond Hunger, which former operated as the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, serves about 40,000 individuals annually, officials said. The organization provides services to 13 ZIP codes across Cook County, including portions of Chicago and its near-west suburbs.

Services include providing food, resources, knowledge and skills to its clients. Beyond Hunger also has expertise in helping people connect to benefits like SNAP and Medicare savings, nutrition education and cooking classes.

More information about Beyond Hunger is available by calling 708-386-1324, emailing info@gobeyondhunger.org or visiting www.gobeyondhunger.org.

sschering@pioneerlocal.com
Twitter: @steveschering