Sue Armato is no stranger to food insecurity. As a young girl, her family relied upon food pantries and subsidized lunches to get by. Now, Armato is on a mission to lead the West Suburban Community Pantry as its new CEO, working to expand efforts and destigmatize food insecurity.
Armato has been a longtime supporter of the West Suburban Community Pantry and often volunteered with her two children when they were young. She said it was important for her to bring her two daughters with her to volunteer, an experience she believes instilled kindness and care in her girls.
“I really believe in the work the pantry does and have always been connected with it,” Armato said. “As a family, we really believe in being engaged in the community and this is a great way to engage and help those in need.”
Armato recalled feeling embarrassed as a young girl when lunchtime rolled around at school and she and her brother received a different colored lunch ticket from their peers. This ticket allowed them to receive a free lunch, but it also led to judgmental looks that often made Armato skip lunch altogether for fear of being singled out.
It was only through helping hands at community pantries that her family was able to put food on the table some nights, and now Armato knows there is no shame in that. In fact, it is an opportunity for communities to come together and support their neighbors, she said.
“I want to bring those personal experiences to the mission of the pantry and destigmatize the need for help,” Armato said. “Food is so expensive right now on top of other rising costs and we need to help people understand that their neighbors need them right now in a very fundamental way.”
Before becoming CEO of the pantry, Armato’s volunteer work and community engagement expanded beyond the pantry. A resident of Downers Grove for the past 20 years, Armato has volunteered with community organizations and spent 12 years on the school board, seeing the issue of food insecurity come up even in those situations.
As for the future of the pantry, Armato hopes to expand already existing partnerships in addition to forging new relationships. During the pandemic, the pantry began a partnership with DoorDash, which allows customers to overcome transportation obstacles and time constraints by getting their pantry items delivered to their homes.
Additionally, Armato hopes to build partnerships with local hospitals to connect with patients who are dealing with food insecurity. She said the pantry is looking to expand its service area to Romeoville to help reach families in need outside the geographic scope of the pantry. She also wants to build up the supportive care the pantry provides to help families identify why they need the pantry and help them move out of food insecurity and into a more stable place, she said.
“Nobody should go to bed hungry,” Armato said. “What I want people to know about us is that we take care of our own, and a lot of us are struggling right now. This is a basic need for food and people are suffering, but we can help.”