Pantry provides for needs beyond food

Collaborative effort supplies families with cleaning essentials during this critical time

Series: Flattening the curve | Story 12

It takes more than food to care for a family, but many food assistance programs don't allow for purchases of the things needed to keep ourselves and our homes clean - things that during COVID-19 are more important than ever.

"The hygiene pantry was our idea to help families in need with keeping their homes and selves clean during COVID," said Dr. Jennifer Swoyer, director of the Amita Health Adventist Medical Center Residency Program in La Grange and a resident of Hinsdale.

To help patients stay safe while saving more money for food and other necessities, Swoyer sought and obtained a $7,500 grant from Community Memorial Foundation in Hinsdale. The money was used to establish hygiene pantries within the residency programs at Hinsdale and La Grange hospitals.

The Amita residency programs are a training ground for family practice physicians. Outreach nurse Julieann Thomas, coordinator of the Hinsdale pantry, said the program's patients tend to be people with limited resources from throughout DuPage, Cook, Will and Kane counties. Sixty to 70 percent have Medicaid.

Young mothers, pregnant women, seniors and families are among the hundreds of patients seen at the Hinsdale practice each week. Thomas said fewer people are seeing the doctor during the COVID-19 shutdown, but the needs for many are increased as families struggle with unemployment, more time at home and an increased need to keep things clean.

"So many people lost their jobs," Thomas said. Faced with the choice of buying food or cleaning products, most will forgo things like soap and disinfectant. Now more than ever, that can be a dangerous choice.

The grant money paid to fill buckets, donated by Fuller's Home and Hardware in Hinsdale and Kirschbaum's Bakery in Western Springs, with bleach, sponges, dish soap, shampoo, toothpaste, paper goods and more. A recent donation of homemade masks also has been added to the buckets. Families with infants also receive a baby box filled with diapers, wipes and other items to help care for their newest member.

The buckets have been distributed to families in an array of situations, Thomas said, including a grandmother raising her grandchildren and a family that recently lost their husband and father.

She said she's humbled by the gratitude she's seen for something as simple as a roll of paper towels.

"It's such a needed program," she said.

Like everyone, Thomas hopes for a quick end to COVID-19 and the challenges it presents. But she also hopes the pantry that resulted from the crisis will last far longer than the virus.

"My vision for this is to try to keep this pantry going with donations," she said.

Donation bins have been set up throughout Amita Health Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale and also at Tupper Hall, located across the street from the main hospital. Along with the community, Thomas said hospital employees have gotten behind the project. In lieu of a gift from the hospital, one retiring employee recently asked that a donation be made to the pantry.

Services provided by the Hinsdale residency program go beyond doctor's visits. The program's residents work throughout the community, holding weekly clinics for 600 seniors at Mayslake Village in Oak Brook and at the DuPage County Health Department center in Westmont.

A mobile food pantry provides 250 families with fresh food each week.

"A lot of us know our patients," said Dr. Sarah Kay Welch, who worked with Swoyer to see her idea for the pantries to reality. In knowing their patients, the doctors, residents and staff at the Hinsdale and La Grange residency programs also come to know their needs. The personal pantry is just the latest means of meeting them.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean