Mile Square opens emergency food pantry

As the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic intensify, families are struggling just to put food on the table.

In response, UIC’s Mile Square Health Center has established an emergency food pantry delivery service for its patients in the city’s most vulnerable communities.

Food Pantry
Dr. Sue Etminan. Photo credit: Dr. Etminan

Dr. Sue Etminan is the force behind the pantry idea. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is supporting food and supply purchases for its insured, who are also patients at Mile Square.

“If we know there is something we can do to help our patients, we’ll do it,” says Etminan, dental director, Mile Square Health Center. “And if it’s outside our area of expertise, we will try to make our patients’ voices heard to those who can help them.”

Mile Square delivers about 500 boxes each week to its patients in a diverse collection of neighborhoods spread throughout the South and West sides of the city.

Food Pantry
Mile Square delivers about 500 boxes each week to its patients. Photo credit: Dr. Etminan

The center offers personalized case management and ready-to-eat deli sandwiches, soup, bread, peanut butter, fruit, pasta, apple sauce and milk. The boxes are personalized based on family size, food allergies and medical conditions.

The pantry location rotates between existing community partners to provide a concentrated effort in a certain neighborhood.

Since the clinic’s service areas are in “food deserts,” forcing vulnerable populations to travel for safe and healthy food options, the staff is trying to limit the amount of movement in the most vulnerable communities, she said.

Etminan’s staff brought the food insecurity issues their patients were facing to her attention after doing well-being phone calls for their patients. Along with support and assistance from the leadership team at Mile Square, they put together a proposal and budget.

“If we are needed to continue beyond the COVID-19 crisis, we will try our best to make that happen,” she said. “We will continue to have open communication with the community to see what their needs are and how we can best assist.”

The pantry operates between Monday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. Patients can pick up boxes or have them delivered. Case managers from Mile Square call the patients in advance to get them on the list of scheduled deliveries or pick-ups.

Food Pantry
UIC graduate students are playing a role in food packaging, case management and delivery. Photo credit: Dr. Etminan

UIC graduate students from the School of Public Health, College of Pharmacy, College of Medicine, and College of Dentistry are playing a role in food packaging, case management and delivery.

Jewel-Osco and Mariano’s are providing the groceries and UIC vendor Catering Out The Box is providing the boxed lunches.

“It’s great that all of these various departments at UI Health, including the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health, are coming together to make sure our patients’ needs are met,” Etminan said. “It could not have been done without their support.”

Community members can contribute funds here and indicate it is for Mile Square COVID response in the “other” line.

To learn more about how you can contribute to the community engagement and outreach efforts of Mile Square, email

For more information about the food pantry, email or

Print Friendly, PDF & Email