March 14, 2024 | Empowering Our Neighbors

Celebrating 1,000 Online Orders with OrderAhead!

OrderAhead (OA) is an online ordering tool from Feeding America. Four agencies (St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry, Neighbor Food Pantries – Family in Faith Church Food Pantry, Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry, and H.E.A.L. Riverwalk Food Pantry) have started their distributions using the OA website. Their programs were developed with the support of the Northern Illinois Food Bank Innovation Team and Feeding America. With almost 60 distributions, the agencies have seen nearly 1400 orders with a 96% pickup rate. We are hoping to launch a second round of OrderAhead agencies in March.  Below are some stories from our agencies in St. John, Family in Faith Church, Aurora Interfaith, and H.E.A.L. Riverwalk.

Northern Illinois Food Bank Growth Dashboard

Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry

Aurora Interfaith Team picking, packing and prepping individual order labels for delivery

Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry started online ordering in September 2023. Aurora choose to transition an existing program called Pantry to Go. The program organizes the delivery of a supplemental food box to neighbors who are homebound and unable to come to the pantry for food distribution. Delivery is fulfilled request that fall within a 10-mile radius. Auora has been able to increased convenience and choice for neighbors by moving it online.  Marcy Robles, Volunteer Coordinator, describes why they chose OrderAhead:

“Being able to offer choices for our neighbors who receive delivery has been a big improvement. OrderAhead has enhanced our delivery program.”

St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry  

Heather and St. John OrderAhead Team

St. John Food Pantry launched their OrderAhead program in September 2023. Director, Heather Hinthorn, describes the impact online ordering can have on neighbors to increase access:

 “A neighbor recently pulled me aside and gave me a big hug. She was proud to say she planned to never see me again! She was able to return to work after taking a leave of absence to care for his husband after he was in a serious accident at work. Before visiting our pantry for the first time using OrderAhead, a friend of hers had to walk her through asking for help. She had never been in a situation like this before.  With tears in her eyes, she shared with me how hard it was to walk into our pantry the first time, but that OrderAhead made the experience a positive one. She was so thankful to be able to choose her groceries online and pick them up quickly at our pantry. 

For some families, visiting a food pantry is a long-term solution to meet their needs and we are proud to serve them each week. For some, they may only visit once and we never see them again, but we are proud to share an abundance of healthy food options. We are so proud to offer any neighbor that needs us the opportunity to access fresh produce, meal kits, milk, eggs, meat, and pantry staples with kindness and care. OrderAhead helps us do this in a very special way and mimics the online ordering one would experience with any major retailer. It’s an incredible resource for our neighbors.” 

Family and Faith Church, of Neighborhood Food Pantries

Brian Ratliff overlooking OrderAhead orders.

Family and Faith Church began online ordering in September of 2023.  Like St. John, they also provide a pickup distribution experience every Wednesday evening. Food Pantry Manager, Brian Ratliff, describes the impact that online ordering has to provide convenience and fight the stigma some neighbors feel with the charitable food network:

 “Our goal is to provide food to neighbors in need with dignity. There also are people in need who would struggle with turning to a food pantry for help. OrderAhead is very private, and the guest is able to pick up their order without entering the pantry.”

OrderAhead is a great choice for people who are comfortable with computers and have internet access. It helps us too because it means 20 people fewer standing in line at the pantry.  Many of our guests work and don’t earn enough to provide enough food to meet their family’s needs. Now they can use OrderAhead and pick up on their way home.”

Holsten Human Capital Development’s H.E.AL. Riverwalk Food Pantry

Martha Barrios, Food Pantry Coordinator, and H.E.A.L OrderAhead Team

Holsten Human Capital Development’s H.E.A.L. Pantry introduced the “OrderAhead” online option in January 2024.  According to Elizabeth Protich, Program Manager, H.E.A.L designed OrderAhead:

“To assist individuals with busy schedules or those who find it challenging to stand in line for extended periods of time. This initiative aligns with HHCD’s commitment of ensuring access to nutritious food options, particularly aiming to support families in preparing wholesome meals and individuals with specific medical dietary requirements. By leveraging this service, users can conveniently select from a range of healthy food items online, thereby simplifying the process of obtaining essential nutrition without the need to physically wait in line. This forward-thinking approach not only enhances accessibility but also aligns with our overarching mission to foster a healthier community by making nutritious food more obtainable for everyone, especially those in critical need of special dietary consideration. 

Holsten Human Capital Development (HHCD) further enriches its H.E.A.L. Pantry “OrderAhead” initiative by offering comprehensive training and assistance through their Holistic Health Resource Program, aimed at individuals who may not be computer-savvy but are eager to utilize the “OrderAhead” online option. This thoughtful inclusion ensures that everyone, regardless of their technological proficiency, has the opportunity to benefit from this service. By providing personalized guidance, HHCD not only facilitates the transition to digital ordering for those unfamiliar with online systems but also prioritizes privacy, allowing individuals to select their healthy food options discreetly and at their convenience. This extension of support exemplifies HHCD’s dedication to inclusivity and privacy, ensuring that all community members have equal access to nutritious food while maintaining their dignity and independence.”  

According to a recent neighbor using OrderAhead:

“Thanks to OrderAhead, I can now get healthy food for my kids without waiting in long lines after work.  Once I learned how to order on my phone it was fast and easy. This program has been a huge help.”

The Future of Online Ordering

The Northern Illinois Food Bank plans to expand online ordering through OrderAhead to an additional 5-7 agencies this spring, providing more certainty and consistency around online ordering options for neighbors.  The Food Bank’s goal is to see 10 million meals distributed annual from online ordering from OrderAhead, it’s online ordering program My Pantry Express, and other non-OrderAhead agency online ordering programs.  With agencies like St. John, Family in Faith, Aurora, and H.E.A.L, we are well on our way to meeting that need.