Urbana, IL: Mobile food pantries return to Champaign County

By Walbert  Castillo  |  The Daily Illini


Eastern Illinois Foodbank has brought back mobile food pantries to Champaign County after a two-year long hiatus, due to the growing prevalence of food insecurity.

Food insecurity takes place when there is a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or a limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, according to the United States Department of Agriculture official website.

The percentage of people who are food insecure in Champaign County has increased by a total of three percent — 14 percent in 2013, followed by 17 percent in 2015 — according to Kristen Bosch, vice president of development and community partnerships at the EIF.

Though mobile food trucks have only been around for about five years now, EIF has approximately 220 agencies and programs that work to alleviate the needs of the hungry through food distribution.

EIF suspended food trucks in Champaign County in 2013 because there were more than 40 agencies that made food readily accessible, Bosch said. However, she said food insecurity has been on the rise in the past two years which led to the return of mobile food pantries.

“Since Champaign County is so population dense, there are more people here in need, and Eastern Illinois Foodbank has to react to that need — that reaction is to provide more food through the use of food mobile pantries,” Bosch said.

While the EIF dispatches about 50 mobile food pantries per year to 14 counties in Central Illinois, the decision to move mobile food pantries to Champaign County will not increase or decrease the total number of food trucks EIF has. Realistically Bosch said the EIF is just reallocating trucks to distribute food in Champaign county.

Champaign County will have at least five mobile food pantries this year.

“Eastern Illinois has been hit especially hard. We are excited about the opportunity to reintroduce foodmobiles to Champaign County and help our neighbors in need,” Jim Hires, executive director of EIF, told The News-Gazette.

The first mobile food truck was stationed at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign on Aug. 8, and served approximately 130 families, with over 30 volunteers to assist EIF with the food distribution process.

EIF picked the Booker T. Washington STEM Academy area because there was a “pocket need” for the hungry within the northeastern corner of Champaign, Bosch said.

“Coming into this year, one thing that we wanted to do as a school was to figure out as many ways as possible to become an integral part of the community in which we reside — we always wanted to figure out how to best serve our community,” said Ryan Cowell, principal of Booker T. Washington STEM Academy located in Champaign. “It felt good to know that we were providing the service that people were really benefitting from.”

Though school was not in session during the time of the event, Cowell said he is hopeful to have another mobile food pantry at the academy on Oct. 31 so students can be more involved.

“We believe in doing what we can to open up opportunities for our students to learn about service and get to experience opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Cowell said.