Online map will spotlight DuPage food pantries
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org May 15, 2012 3:36PM
Updated: June 17, 2012 8:11AM
It’s not always easy to ask for help, even when hunger is on the doorstep.
A new interactive map soon will be available that tells DuPage County residents not only where to get food when hard times come knocking, but also how to identify the pantry building, how to reach it, and when it’s open for business.
“The hardest day of someone’s life is the first day that they realize they’re going to have to use a food pantry,” said Melissa Travis, a senior program director at the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton and chairwoman of the Community Hunger Network, a consortium of the nearly four dozen hunger relief agencies in DuPage. “This is a way to make it a little easier.”
Under development by the county’s Geographic Information Systems staff, the feature provides a county map with each pantry’s location identified by an icon resembling a grocery bag. When the user clicks on the map, details will pop up that include aerial photographs of the site, the closest major intersections, phone and email contact information, and any restrictions potential clients may need to know about.
Charles McLimans, executive director and CEO of the Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville, said he and his staff offer referrals to new clients who come in for supplemental help fighting hunger. Unlike most pantries that are able to distribute food just once a month, Loaves & Fishes allows clients to come every two weeks. Sometimes, however, even that isn’t often enough. McLimans said those who work at the pantry, which served 8,922 people during April, always ask about the family’s main source of food before suggesting additional resources.
“We understand that some people need to go to multiple pantries to feed their families,” he said.
Mary Keating, the county’s director of community services, said a launch plan for the map is in the works. GIS staff member Tom Rickert said work is under way on including turn-by-turn directions, public transit information and other amenities. He plans to take the map to the CHN’s annual meeting on July 12; the member pantries will publish the map’s web address once it is completed.
While some families are limited in their ability to access websites, most are still able to do so. Keating said many people have cancelled their land-based telephone service but they’ll still be able to use the map.
“They may have an iPad or a tablet, and they’re accessing (the Internet) using the wireless connection at the library,” Keating said.
In many cases, those heading for the brink of hunger have recently lost their jobs and the security that came with them. They never expected to need help putting food on the table.
“A lot of times we’ll hear that people will travel to the community next door, because they feel embarrassed to be asking for assistance,” McLimans said. “One of the things that we try to do at Loaves & Fishes is to break down those barriers and remove that stigma.”
Although the economy has begun to improve, the need to stave off chronic hunger remains an urgent concern for local social service providers.
“We’re seeing some people get jobs, but we’re still seeing demand at record levels,” Travis said. “If you’ve been living off credit cards for several years because you couldn’t get work, it’s going to take some time to dig yourself back out.”