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Feeding Illinois finally to move from paper to computers

Staff writer |
A $4.48 million investment will help the eight regional Feeding Illinois food banks and their network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters better serve more than 1.9 million residents who use their services each year.

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The investment will provide a digital infrastructure in each of the state's food banks and with the 1,885 member agencies they support to more quickly deliver emergency food assistance to those who need it the most. Today's announcement is part of Governor Quinn's agenda to protect and improve the health of the people of Illinois.

The state investment from Governor Quinn's Illinois Jobs Now! program will improve efficiency and lower costs of services by purchasing software, computer equipment, tablets and internet access, allowing hunger relief agencies and food banks to collect the signatures required for food bank network users statewide.

Currently these signed "declarations of eligibility" required for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) generate millions of sheets of paper and force staff to spend thousands of hours tracking paperwork and collecting signatures.

The eight regional food banks will invest $544,000 to train staff on the new digital sign-in and record-keeping system. The new system follows a 2013 Illinois Commission to End Hunger recommendation to streamline the client signature process.

The eight Feeding Illinois member food banks include the Central Illinois Foodbank, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Northern Illinois Food Bank, Peoria Area Food Bank, River Bend Foodbank, St. Louis Area Foodbank and Tri-State Food Bank.

"Nearly 260,000 households are served each month through our State Emergency Food Program, so you can imagine the mounds of paper that are used," Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler said.

"We are thrilled to partner with our eight regional Feeding Illinois food banks to enhance efficiencies in the intake process, improve customer service and make huge gains in data quality and accuracy, all while feeding our hungry neighbors in Illinois."

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) worked with the Greater Chicago Food Depository on a pilot program for the signature system at six Chicago area food pantries. The pilot program concluded in September 2014, demonstrating lower cost, greater efficiency, better service delivery and improved client experience through the use of the system.

As part of the pilot program the eight regional food banks selected the appropriate software and equipment to implement the program statewide. In addition to collecting the necessary signatures, the initiative will link individuals with food and other critical programs and build additional capacity for community-based organizations in each of Illinois' 102 counties.

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