Connections for the Homeless, Downtown Evanston collect 1,500 pounds of food for local pantries


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

Elle Ullum, Connections for the Homeless’ Associate Director of Development, said the 1,500 pounds of collected food is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the amount of food that pantries need annually.

Rachel Schlueter, Reporter

Elle Ullum lost her job in 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. A single mother, Ullum said she relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to provide for her and her child. 

“We got enough money (for food), but that doesn’t pay for toilet paper, diapers or menstrual products,” Ullum said. “The benefits are great, but they don’t cover everything.”

She became the associate director of development at Connections for the Homeless in January 2022 and now helps run events like food drives to support Evanston residents who use SNAP. The most recent food drive in March, run in partnership with Downtown Evanston, collected around 1,500 pounds of food for Connections’ food pantries, she said.

“It was a great experience to have Downtown Evanston step up and support their neighbors in this way,” Ullum said.

Ullum said the two pantries are expecting a “record number” of visitors this year due to the federal government’s decision to reduce SNAP benefits to pre-pandemic levels.  

In April 2020, SNAP began offering at least an extra $95 per month to qualifying households.That extra benefit ended on March 1. Cutting the emergency allotments will affect 2 million Illinois residents, or about 16% of the state, according to Axios.

“With the reduction in SNAP benefits, more people in general need resources,” Ullum said. “We are expecting more people to visit our food pantries this year than ever before.”  

Annie Coakley, the executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she attended a March 3 meeting for the Coalition to End Homelessness in Evanston, a group of nonprofit agencies serving homeless Evanstonians. There, she heard Evanston pantries were starting to run low on food.

After the meeting, Coakley worked with 11 businesses in the downtown Evanston business district to start a food drive and put out donation boxes to collect canned food and non-perishable items.

“It was nice to see businesses step up and promote the drive,” Coakley said. “It’s a good neighborly action and the cornerstone of our community.”

Nina Barrett the owner of Bookends & Beginnings, one of the businesses that joined the food drive — said about 50 people donated food items like soup, cereal and chips to her store. 

“I think people were trying to do something about (SNAP emergency allotments ending),” Barrett said. “It’s frustrating to watch as a citizen and wonder, ‘What can I do?’”

Ullum said the Connections’ food pantries go through 72,000 pounds of food each year. The amount of food donated to the recent Downtown Evanston drive is 2% of that annual amount.

The support from the community can go a long way, but Ullum hopes the federal government will return to providing additional SNAP benefits.  

“In a community food drive, 1,500 pounds of food is a significant amount,” she said. “In the grand scheme of what we go through in a year, it is a very small drop in the bucket.”

Ullum said she’d also like to see Downtown Evanston continue holding food drives and residents donate to food pantries throughout the year, not just during the holidays. 

Barrett echoed Ullum’s sentiment, saying food drives should be year-round since Evanston residents are eager to help. 

“I wish (the food drive) could have gone on for longer because the need is going to go on for longer,” Barrett said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @rschlueter26

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