With each passing day of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are news reports about more people being laid off. They are joining the ranks of the unemployed, and, in some cases, facing food insecurity. At the same time, many smaller food pantries have had to close their doors because of the pandemic. The growing number of people in need and the declining number of food pantries mean that more people are relying on food pantries and suppers operated by organizations such as Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels. “Our pantries have seen an increase in people coming throughout Cook and Lake Counties,” said Marie Jochum, Catholic Charities’ director of board relations and volunteer engagement, who is helping coordinate the agency’s response to food insecurity during the pandemic. “We are still up and running and still really focused on basic human needs at this point.” Catholic Charities continues to operate pantries, nightly suppers, senior meals distributed at residential homes and centers, home-delivered meals and a Meals on Wheels program. “We expect that in the weeks and months ahead that folks who weren’t coming to us regularly are going to start coming to us,” she said. “We’ve put things in place to respond to that, but that’s where we really need the community’s help as well.” More people are already coming to the nightly hot suppers that Catholic Charities offers at its headquarters at 721 N. LaSalle St., at its site in Des Plaines, at St. Blase Parish in Summit and St. Anne Parish in Hazel Crest. Suppers rely on donations of hot food from restaurants and, despite the effect COVID-19 has had on the local restaurant industry, only one restaurant had to pull out. To help keep the meals coming at the downtown location, a donor is providing support to the restaurants so they, in turn, can still supply food for the suppers. “This donor has really helped us by helping them so they’re still able to provide food to us,” Jochum said. “If we had to, we’d go to bag dinners, but this is helping us do this much longer than we anticipated.” Before COVID-19, the suppers were sit-down dinners. Now, volunteers pack the hot meals, including dessert and a drink, in to-go containers and distribute them to guests, all while observing social distancing. “The social aspect of the dinners is gone, which is sad because that’s important to folks, but obviously everyone’s health is a priority over that,” Jochum said. “We have not seen a slowdown of people coming to suppers. It is still a high number of people.” Like Catholic Charities, the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels has seen an increase in the number of people coming to its Tuesday food pantry and monthly food giveaways. For example, about 200 guests usually come when the food pantry is open on Tuesdays, but now more than double that number are coming. Normally, the mission’s indoor food pantry is set up like a grocery store where guests can choose what food they want and put it in a cart for bagging. Now, the pantry is all outside and there is no more food choice, said Sister Stephanie Baglia of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. Another difference is that volunteers have been asked to stay home. The Franciscans are pre-bagging food themselves to keep people safe. Guests receive bags of non-perishable food, produce, meat and dairy and miscellaneous items. “People are getting the same types of things,” Sister Stephanie said. “They’re still getting a lot of food. There’s just less choice.” Each week, the Franciscans set up 16 tables six feet apart outside to observe social distancing and put bags on the tables for guests to pick up. It moves quickly and is done in about two hours. “It is very fast because we are trying to keep people from having to stand next to each other. It is an aerobic pantry. We are moving. This is why you’ve got to be in shape,” said Sister Stephanie, who also runs marathons. Members of the Chicago Police Department are helping the Franciscans by delivering food to the homes of people who can’t get out and come to the mission. As the number of people being served has increased, so have the donations. “People have been extraordinarily generous in bringing extra food,” she said. “The Greater Chicago Food Depository has been extraordinarily generous. They have lifted all costs of food for partner agencies until the coronavirus is over.” While they aren’t spending much time socializing with the guests because of social distancing, the Franciscans are hearing words of support from them. “People are extremely grateful that we’re still open because a lot of pantries have closed, which is one of the reasons our numbers have increased,” she said. “They are so grateful that the church has continued their outreach to the poor. They know it’s both us and Catholic Charities and all kinds of people who are doing great things to try and help people who are really struggling during this whole thing.” Like Jochum, Sister Stephanie believes the number of people coming to the pantry will continue to increase. “I think it’s going to increase before it decreases,” she said. “We might be bigger forever because a lot of people found out about us through this.” To donate to Catholic Charities to support their efforts, visit catholiccharities.net. To donate to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, visit missionola.com.