The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, nor is the community’s growing need for food.

Gov. Juliana Stratton visited the Midwest Food Bank (MFB) in Normal on Tuesday to discuss the continuing challenge of food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Stratton said state records show food insecurity has doubled in Illinois since the COVID strike. She said the situation is much worse for some of the most vulnerable populations.

“Food insecurity has tripled for Illinois families with children, and our state has seen a 60% increase in food insecurity for the elderly. This means that it’s exactly the latter, people are hungry in Illinois – some are using food banks for the first time, “Stratton said. and those in our rural communities. “

Like food aid providers across the state and country, MFB has seen many new faces over the course of a year and a half. Eric Hodel, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Midwest Food Bank, said the MFB distributed more than $ 100 million worth of food to about 800 food pantries last year. Even when the COVID pandemic is easing, Hodel said those agencies are still seeing huge demand.

“People came to our front door and asked for food. Again, we do not serve individuals – we serve agencies. But he told me those people were young and they were just trying to understand him. Now given, we took care of them and connected them to an agency. “But I could see that the foot traffic increased a lot.”

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Dana Vollmer

Lt. Governor Julianna Stratton with Eric Hodel and Jada Hoerr of Midwest Food Bank.

Hodel said people are trying to make exchanges: does he pay their utility bills or their rent, or buy food? The food banking industry addresses those needs by providing meals and ingredients at no cost – a model that relies on the generosity of donors, volunteers and business partners.

Stratton said generosity has been in high supply during the pandemic and she hopes the sense of community will continue.

“There will always be a need for support from the government, philanthropy and other organizations, corporate sponsors, etc. But there is nothing that I think is more powerful that we have seen during this pandemic than what it means for people to come together and say, ‘Let’s help each other’ at a time when so many are they fought, “said Stratton.

Stratton said food insecurity is emblematic and far more than hunger: it is about justice, equality and the possibility of opportunity.

Earlier this year, the Pritzker administration launched a food capital roadmap. Stratton said it includes steps such as making it easier for people to apply for food programs and strengthening co-operation between government agencies and community partners to help enroll people in free or discounted food programs.

Stratton said the next step is to launch a two-year initiative to increase equity in agriculture by removing barriers for urban farmers and supporting color growers.

“I think about my role in agriculture. “I am a descendant of previously enslaved people, four generations who worked the land, who were farmers in Mississippi,” said Stratton. “Over time, we have seen fewer farmers of color who have been part of the agricultural industry – and it is not just farmers, those who work the land, but industry as a whole.”

Stratton said there is room for more diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in all areas of agriculture, from law and communications to marketing and research.