Community Partners and Illinois Tech Team Up to Address Food Insecurity and Access to Vaccines During Pandemic


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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, neighbors across the nation banded together to help each other, and Illinois Tech was proud to partner with neighborhood organizations throughout Bronzeville. When the pandemic first struck, Illinois Tech faculty, staff, and students raised money to support local food pantries, and over the last year and a half, the university has hosted several mass vaccination events in partnerships with various state and municipal leaders and organizations.

The need for assistance from food pantries only grew during the pandemic. Food insecurity was projected to rise by 48 percent in Cook County between 2019 and 2020, partially as a result of the pandemic, according to a March 2021 report from Feeding America. The same report also states that “more than 42 million people including 13 million children may experience food insecurity in 2021, many as result of COVID-19.” The faculty in Lewis College of Science and Letters wanted to do something to help families facing food insecurity.

“We recognized that the pandemic has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in Chicago,” says Margaret Power, professor of history. “And those impacts have increased families’ reliance on already-limited food pantries in their community.”

With support from Lewis College faculty, Power launched a universitywide fundraising drive. The effort took place over two weeks and exceeded its $10,000 fundraising goal, raising $11,000 in just two weeks in support of the Bronzeville-area local food pantries. On June 19, 2020, funds were distributed to Chosen Tabernacle Food Pantry, Saint James Food Pantry, Figueroa Wu Family Foundation Pilsen Food Pantry, West Point Missionary Baptist Church Food Pantry and Clothing Ministry, Matthew House Chicago, Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, and St. Elizabeth Church Food Pantry.

“I think it’s wonderful that so many members of the Illinois Tech community donated so generously to support this endeavor,” Power says.

In early 2021 when COVID-19 vaccines became more widely available, Illinois Tech worked with community and state health organizations and elected officials to bring vaccination clinics to the south side. In partnership with Howard Brown Health Center, Illinois Tech hosted its first vaccination clinic in Hermann Hall on April 24. Approximately 1,600 Moderna vaccines were administered at that clinic, and a follow up event on May 22 provided first doses as well as an opportunity for people who attended the first clinic to receive their second Moderna dose. 

“The university is committed to making sure that everyone in our community who wants a vaccine can get one,” says Adrienne Irmer, associate vice president for external affairs. “Barriers to vaccine access, especially transportation and appointment availability, were a critical issue in the spring for many. We wanted to help remove some of these barriers by having vaccine clinics on-campus that allowed for pre-registration and walk-ins to reach as many people as possible.”

Since then, Illinois Tech has worked with elected officials and various organizations to host or sponsor six additional clinics in the area. Depending on the date and site, the clinics offered the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (Third District) and Representatives Lamont Robinson (Fifth District) and Kam Buckner (26th District), as well as Chicago Alderwoman Pat Dowell (Third Ward) partnered with the university for the May 22 clinic. Hunter’s Annual Community Health and Wellness Fair at Illinois Tech also included a vaccination clinic at this year’s event. The Illinois College of Optometry and Illinois Eye Institute have also hosted clinics this summer. In addition to Howard Brown Health Center, Illinois Tech also partnered with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago Department of Public Health to provide the vaccines for the clinics.   

Irmer says that the university’s community partners played an invaluable role in spreading the word about the clinics.  

“As a university, we have always strived to live up to our founding mission as a supportive and collaborative community,” says Irmer. “And I am pleased that so many of our faculty, staff, and students have enthusiastically answered that call.”

Photo: The Victory Monument in Bronzeville