Regardless of who you are, visiting a food program can take a lot of courage. It’s not easy to share that you need a little extra help – and that’s why food programs and pantries across the country work to create a welcoming, safe environment for our neighbors facing hunger.
For the LGBTQ community, it can be even more difficult to ask for help, as they have a long history of facing discrimination - which too often continues today. At Care for Real, a food pantry in Chicago working with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, they’re taking extra steps to make sure our LGBTQ neighbors facing hunger not only feel welcome, but feel seen and accepted for who they truly are.
According to the pantry’s executive director, Gregory Gross (pictured above), the work is basically in the name.
“We want to provide holistic care that is based on our clients’ identity – their real self,” he said.
Gregory and his staff take three steps to make sure the LGBTQ community feels welcome at the pantry. They may seem simple, but they go a long way.
Never assuming pronouns
Gregory and his staff and volunteers make sure LGBTQ visitors feel comfortable from the moment they walk in the door. And that starts with making sure everyone is using the correct pronouns.
“We’re never assuming pronouns,” he said. “We’re always asking people how they identify, including as non-binary.”
Volunteers ask visitors when they check in at the pantry what their pronouns are. Volunteers also participate in training to ensure they are always using the correct pronouns.
Being deliberate in choosing words
Beyond using correct pronouns, Gregory, his staff and volunteers don't using language that reinforces gender stereotypes - especially when it comes to some basic needs products that Care for Real offers.
“For example, we say that we have ‘menstrual’ products and not ‘feminine’ hygiene products. We’re hyper-aware of the language that we use, and we’re always being really respectful with our words and actions.”
Distinctions like those respect and affirm the visitors’ individual truths and help visitors feel seen and understood.
Eye contact and a smile
From the moment visitors walk through the door, they’re greeted by a friendly face.
The personal connection that comes with eye contact and a smile is universal – it’s a way to make our neighbors visiting food pantries feel welcome. But creating that connection and safe space is even more important when asking for help can be so difficult.
“Historically, the LGBTQ community is vulnerable,” Gregory said. “Many may not have a ready support system because they’ve left their homes and asking for help can be even more difficult, especially now with all the anti-trans sentiment.”
That’s why simple things like a smile are never taken for granted at Care for Real.
“We greet people with a smile, we are always welcoming,” Gregory said.
“We also have a staff person who is queer who is a greeter. That makes LGBTQ folks feel more comfortable right away. We are providing a safe and supportive environment at all times.” Gregory said.