May 5, 2023

Food pantries like the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry play an important role in addressing food insecurity in communities. Historically, food pantries approach their work from a charity-based model, which can create power imbalances and perpetuate the stigma associated with food insecurity. In order to truly address the root causes of food insecurity and work towards food justice, we must shift to a solidarity-based model and prioritize working with the community, not for the community.

What is a solidarity-based model in food pantries?

A solidarity-based model centers around mutual aid and collective action, rather than charity. In this model, we work alongside the community we serve, rather than simply providing food assistance. This approach emphasizes the importance of building relationships and creating opportunities for community members to take ownership of the pantry and participate in decision-making processes.

By working in solidarity with the community, we can better understand the unique needs and experiences of those we serve. Studies have shown that this will lead to more effective programming and advocacy efforts that truly address the root causes of food insecurity, rather than simply providing temporary relief.

How is the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry shifting towards a solidarity-based model?

Involving community members in decision-making processes: We have begun inviting neighbors to a weekly meeting before each Tuesday’s food distribution, allowing us to get to know our neighbors, their struggles, skills, needs, and joys. It helps the staff understand what is working at the pantry and where to put energy to better help those we serve. Neighbors will choose third-party vendors to attend the meetings to offer other needed services.

Building relationships: We know that we cannot work in solidarity without building relationships with community members. Our program, Project Support, allows our neighbors to have one-on-one case management sessions in which they collaboratively set goals to assist in breaking down barriers to resources they are seeking. Project Support has helped us better understand what each of our neighbors are facing and how to advocate for the services they need.

Bringing the power out of our neighbors: We want our community members to take ownership of the Aurora Food Pantry in order to shift power dynamics and create a more equitable relationship. This can include creating opportunities for community members to volunteer or work at the pantry, provide training and resources for community-led initiatives, and to share their own skills and stories with the community.

Working with our neighbors is essential for creating lasting change and addressing the root causes of food insecurity in our community. The collaboration with those we serve has helped us better understand the unique needs and experiences of our neighbors as well as create programming and advocacy efforts that truly address those needs.

What new programs and services have come out of this work?

Community Closet. Since Project Support’s inception in August of 2022, we have had many requests from neighbors seeking clothing items to dress for weather conditions, prepare for an interview, or have proper work attire. In April, after receiving donations of clothing, we launched our Community Closet, providing gently used and new clothes and shoes for adults and children.

Bi-lingual Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Beginner Open Meetings. Meetings held at the pantry have created a brave space that is accessible and inclusive, enabling us to better serve those going through recovery.

Free Library. Access to educational resources is an important need that our neighbors often request. In the lobby of the pantry, we now have free reading material for both adults and children. Additionally, in the coming months, we hope to provide a selection of books in many languages.

Mobile Meals will be launched in 2024. Thanks to federal funding appropriated by Senator Dick Durbin, we will be adding a commercial kitchen that will allow us to provide hot meals to a 5-county area. We will be partnering with other local organizations across our service area to provide nutritionally dense, prepared meals, served hot from a food truck, to those lacking access to a kitchen to cook their own meals. The commercial kitchen will also allow us to provide cooking and nutrition classes to the community.

Naloxone Distribution. Thanks to Northwestern Medicine, Kane County Health Department, and Hope.org/The Echo Group, we can now provide life-saving nasal spray to our community to prevent opioid overdose. In the next few months, we hope to add more harm-prevention tools for our neighbors to access.

Loaves & Fishes Emergency Assistance Program. We are thrilled to partner with Loaves & Fishes as they expand their Financial Assistance Program to Aurora to help our neighbors access emergency financial assistance for things like transportation, rent/mortgage payments, health and utility bills, etc. Anyone interested in accessing this program can fill out an application with a Project Support case manager. Applicants must reside in the city of Aurora.

We hope this new programming will make a positive impact in the lives of our neighbors and help them get on the road to food security. What things would you like to see us add in the future?

All of these initiatives, programming, and food distribution are only possible through the generosity of the community. If you wish to make a gift to the Aurora Food Pantry, please click HERE. Thank you so much for your continued support. You are helping make a lasting impact on our community.

In solidarity,