As the outbreak of COVID-19 disrupted the day-to-day life for millions of Chicago residents, local food pantries like Breakthrough’s Fresh Market have responded to the needs of our neighbors.

In Chicago, food insecurity has risen to 24 percent, with many residents turning to food pantries for the first time as businesses closed and jobs were lost.

However, many individuals living on Chicago’s West Side were already at risk for food insecurity. A history of disinvestment in communities like East Garfield Park has produced high rates of unemployment and poverty, making it more difficult to live a healthy life – which includes accessing high-quality, nutritious food.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, 50 percent of East Garfield Park residents were at risk of food insecurity. As a food desert, residents have limited access to grocery stores and, therefore, to affordable, healthy food. This results in increased rates of chronic health conditions, like diabetes and hypertension. 

As the virus heightened health disparities in our community, the need for food assistance grew significantly. 

The Fresh Market Adapts to the Pandemic

The Fresh Market food pantry began serving more East Garfield Park families at the start of the Governor’s shelter-in-place order in March.

Prior to the pandemic, the Fresh Market served 200 to 250 families weekly. However, from March to May, the number of families tripled, serving 600 to 750 families each week. More than 600,000 pounds of food have been distributed since March, nearly as much food as the pantry distributes in a typical year. The Fresh Market has also increased delivery to seniors in the community.

600,000 pounds of food distributed by the Fresh Market since March

To ensure the safety of shoppers, the Fresh Market transitioned from client-choice to pre-packaged groceries, which includes bags of dried goods, beef, milk, eggs, bread, and produce. Rather than coming into the Fresh Market to choose items for their families, guests receive their bags at the door.

“When the guests come in to get groceries, it gives us an opportunity to learn a little bit about their lives and pray for them,” said Wendy Daniels, Fresh Market Coordinator. “It’s been a big adjustment distributing pre-packaged groceries because we don’t have that anymore.”

Additionally, many of the volunteers at the Fresh Market are seniors from the community. To ensure their health and safety, they stopped coming into the pantry.  

A Collaborative Effort to Serve the Community

To meet the needs of the community, staff members across Breakthrough programs stepped in to package and distribute groceries to guests. 

Though service has changed, that’s been a positive, Wendy added. “There’s staff who work in different spaces like youth services who wouldn’t normally be at the Fresh Market. I’ve been able to serve alongside and have conversations with more of my colleagues.”

We’re grateful for the commitment of staff members to serving East Garfield Park, as well as for our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which has supported and sustained the Fresh Market food pantry since its inception. Since March, the Fresh Market has also received generous donations from Target, local coffee shops, television sets, and many others. 

Through this collaborative effort, the Fresh Market has continued to provide groceries to East Garfield Park families when it’s never been more critical. You can join this effort by partnering financially with Breakthrough at