Illinois SNAP-Ed continues to meet the needs of families during COVID-19

green a-frame sign that says "make half your plate fruits and vegetables" in foreground, round table with nutrition handouts in background

April 5, 2021

URBANA, Ill. - During the pandemic, Illinois SNAP-Ed implemented a multi-faceted response strategy to help Illinois families and the organizations that serve them, including:

  1. Assessing agency support needs,
  2. Increasing virtual nutrition education opportunities,
  3. Developing the Find Food IL Map,
  4. Increasing education reach via print materials and social media, and
  5. Increasing the visibility of community emergency food sites, such as food pantries.


Supporting community agencies

Soon after Illinois’ first stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, the Illinois SNAP-Ed program created a statewide survey to assess how best to support partners during the pandemic. SNAP-Ed staff made more than 700 partner contacts. Using this feedback, SNAP-Ed developed a partner needs response strategy to include educational materials, virtual education opportunities and facilitated collaboration between community resources and partners.

Increasing virtual nutrition education opportunities

Woman waving at screen while holding OrganWise Guys dollOne of the primary needs established in the partner needs assessment was virtual nutrition education programming. As a result, Illinois SNAP-Ed hosted its first virtual statewide series in June 2020 using the Healthy Cents curriculum. Soon after, staff were recording and sharing lessons to reach families where and when they needed education. By the end of 2020, staff delivered 314 classes, reaching 2,865 individuals.

Virtual programming success in White County

As part of the MyPlate for My Family curriculum, SNAP-Ed staff showed participants how to use the new MyPlate app and how it could help them make healthy changes. At the end of one of the virtual classes, there were four participants who said they downloaded the app, and another participant said she lost 13 pounds using this app. She said her goal was to lose 26 pounds by the end of the year and this program was helping her stay on track to meet this goal.

Developing the Find Food IL Map

Find Food IL text with map on both computer screen and phoneThe Find Food IL Community Food Map launched in August in response to the escalating food insecurity crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to help individuals find food in their community. The comprehensive tool maps all resources a food-insecure family might need, making it particularly convenient for those with limited transportation access. Visitors can search by their own city or zip code and filter by resource type.

The Find Food IL Map includes:

  • School and summer meal sites
  • Food pantries
  • Grocery stores that accept SNAP, WIC or senior food benefits
  • Farmers markets that accept SNAP, WIC or senior food benefits
  • SNAP and WIC offices
  • Senior food resources

To date, more than 20 local partners have requested to or have begun hosting a link to the map on their agency’s website.

Increasing educational reach via print materials and social media

inside of box truck containing produce boxes with nutrition handouts on topDue to limitations in providing face-to-face nutrition education, SNAP-Ed created and distributed over 30 resource flyers on topics relevant to the pandemic.

Topics included:

  • How to build an emergency food supply,
  • Creative ways to use leftovers,
  • How to store and preserve foods safely,
  • Understanding food label dates, and
  • Recipes incorporating typical foods found in a home pantry.

SNAP-Ed took bulk print orders of these flyers from community partners to ensure families could receive timely information in food boxes, health clinics, and family packets. In total, 168 partners were sent 352,739 print materials for their clients. Information was also shared through the Eat. Move. Save. website and social media platforms (particularly Facebook) which saw a 300% increase in traffic compared to pre-pandemic conditions. Social media pages helped promote the Find Food IL map, statewide virtual nutrition education programs, and other timely information to more than 2,000 followers.

Increasing emergency food site visibility and mobile food site coordination

parking lot with cars waiting for mobile food pantry items and A-frame sign encouraging healthy protein choicesDue to an increase in families seeking food assistance, SNAP Ed collaborated with 85 community partners to help community members more easily locate food pantries. Strategies included new flags and signage, and creating new pop-up food distribution sites. Pop-up food distribution sites were significant since some food pantries had changed their operating hours or set up a new location as a “drive-through pantry.” Illinois SNAP-Ed supported 200 food pantries across 28 counties, including 32 mobile markets, reaching over 8400 families.

Story Source
Jennifer McCaffrey