To the Editor:
Eighteen months after the start of the pandemic, Northern Illinois Food Bank’s pop-up and mobile food markets remain an all-too-common sight in northern Illinois communities. Despite a recovering economy and a return to routine for many, hunger continues to be a very real issue for families across the country.
For those facing food insecurity for the first time, it can be challenging to navigate our nation’s charitable food system, with the most common barrier being not knowing where to turn for help. Additionally, the stigma of simply asking for help can itself be a barrier, evoking feelings of embarrassment, guilt and fear.
The first step to overcoming these barriers is raising awareness of charitable food resources and de-stigmatizing the experience of asking for help. Other barriers include the impending expiration of federal and state food program waivers, such as the SNAP telephonic signature waivers that allow Contracted Community Partners, such as Northern Illinois Food Bank, to apply over the phone, as well as the Advance Child Tax Credit for 2021 and child nutrition programs such as Summer-EBT that provide summer benefits to children when school meals are not an option. These temporary programs put in place during the pandemic remain desperately needed and should be made permanent.
Throughout the pandemic, many food banks had to redefine themselves to meet the unprecedented demand for assistance, improving convenience while preserving the dignity of those in need.
We encourage everyone to join Northern Illinois Food Bank and make your voice heard to break down barriers around food insecurity by engaging with neighbors, employers, civic groups, friends and others to advocate and spread awareness for resources and remove the stigma around asking for help. Contact your elected officials to express support for permanent increases and extensions of policies and programs that will alleviate hunger.
We all have a role to play developing an inclusive, supportive and equitable culture in which anyone in need of food assistance has direct, immediate access to resources without shame.
President and CEO, Northern Illinois Food Bank