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Hundreds Of Out Of Work Families Line Up Outside Local Food Banks During COVID-19 Crisis

CHICAGO (CBS) -- More than 650,000 people have filed for unemployment in Illinois in the last six weeks. That's 650,000 families who don't know where their next paycheck is coming from and may not know how to put food on the table. Now local food banks are struggling to keep up.

On Saturday morning at Northern Illinois Food Bank, people lined up hours before the doors even opened. It's just another sign of how trying the coronavirus crisis has been on families in and around Chicago.

And it has left food banks in disaster mode.

"We're seeing people that have never had to go to a food pantry," said Robert Crawford, food pantry team leader with the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Crawford has been volunteering for years. He says before the crisis hit they were just starting to see a decline.

"When COVID broke it went the exact opposite direction," he said. "It's been heartbreaking to see the need go up so much."

It has gone up so much that Saturday morning people were waiting for hours before the food bank even opened, socially distanced in their cars and even behind masks. Crawford said he didn't recognize half of them.

"We're seeing people who have never had to go to a food pantry, $50,000 a year job but living week to week by their paycheck and then all of a sudden two weeks later they're done, they're out of money and they need help," he said.

It's people of all races and all ages.

"I'll be honest, a lot of people are scared," he said.

It's heartbreaking for him and his volunteers to watch, but Crawford and his wife Cindy say in a world where so much is out of our control, the least we can do is help if we can.

"My wife actually was hugging cars," he said. "She's hugging cars instead of people."

"They don't know where their meals are going to come from, but to have the pantry open and available for these people, it's a little bit of relief for them at least for this week," he said."

They served 500 hundred families Saturday. The rest had to be turned away. Food banks everywhere have seen a surge in demand. They are desperate for both food donations and volunteers.

To volunteer with the Mobile Food Pantry specifically, you can email

Below are other websites with how to donate food or volunteer at area food banks.

Northern Illinois Food Bank: 

Greater Chicago Food Depository:

Lakeview Food Pantry:

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