When the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in West Humboldt Park reopened its indoor food pantry on July 13, people were lined up around the block to get in. The mission served 312 families, the highest ever for the indoor pantry. While COVID-19 restrictions forced the pantry outdoors in March 2020, the mission’s pantry was one of the few in the area to stay open throughout the pandemic and has seen increased numbers of people seeking help. The need is not as great as at the end of last year, when there was a spike in COVID-19 infections, but it is still high, said Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago Sister Stephanie Baliga. In December, the pantry served 4,700 families and 1,200 families at just one pantry, which is open on Tuesdays. “The need was extremely high in the fall, and I know other pantries were similarly situated,” she said. “It’s still higher than it was pre-pandemic, partially because I think people discovered our pantry during the pandemic and like us.” The pantry is set up like a grocery store where people can pick and choose what food they want. During the outdoor pantry there was no choice. People were given prepackaged boxes and bags of food. The pandemic brought one feature to the Tuesday pantries — home delivery. “We went from zero to having one,” Sister Stephanie said. Members of the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office helped the Franciscans by delivering food to the homes of people who could not or did not want to go to the mission for fear of COVID-19. Now they are receiving help for home deliveries from the Alexian Brothers and Medspeed. There is still a great need for food and other resources in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood, she said. “We see everybody from teenagers that come to the pantry to young families to single people and lots of elderly people,” Sister Stephanie said. “There is significant food insecurity for the elderly in our neighborhood, especially since we are a food desert.” And it is not over. “Our neighborhood suffered a lot,” she said. “It was very much damaged by COVID itself and all of the aftereffects. There’s still a lot of suffering going on over here in the neighborhood.” Like the indoor pantry at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, Catholic Charities is reopening its eight indoor pantries. During the pandemic, the agency held drive-thru pantries. Catholic Charities also saw an increase in clients coming for food, said Sharon Tillmon, director of Family Stabilization Services at Catholic Charities, “Our fiscal year ended and we had served about 8,400 more families than we did the previous year. And we continue to do that,” Tillmon said. She worries about the coming months when added benefits to assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are slated to expire. “They’re talking about these things going away, which our families were already marginalized, jeopardized, they were food insecure prior to the pandemic. The pandemic just made things worse,” she said. “Now, without those additional benefits that are going to be going away in September, I, unfortunately forecast that those numbers are going to increase again.” Reopening the indoor pantries gives staff and volunteers the opportunity to connect with clients and determine if they need other services, as they did in the past. “We can kind of get back to more of our holistic assessments. … The pantry for us is used as sort of an entry into the whole system,” Tillmon said. “I’m one that firmly believes that if you’re coming for food, there’s some other issues here.” Like Sister Stephanie, Tillmon notes that the pandemic hit the poorest neighborhoods the hardest and they are not recovering like other neighborhoods in the city and suburbs. “The pandemic looks very different when you were already poor and marginalized,” she said. “There are a lot of challenges that are out here. I don’t want to always sound so doom and gloom, but I also want folks to understand, who read the Chicago Catholic, that life can be very, very difficult to maneuver and just get your basic human needs met.” Both Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels welcome volunteers and donations to their food pantries. Visit catholiccharities.net or missionola.com for more information.