Smile Politely

A resource guide for surviving this economy

Things are really difficult right now for a lot of people. Inflation is at a 40 year high. Gas is over $5 a gallon at the time of publishing, and Ameren announced that as of June 1st, electricity supply costs would double for those who have opted out of the municipal aggregation program. Food prices are rising. And, let us not forget that there is still a global pandemic; COVID transmission rates in Champaign County are currently high, and there are plenty of people, including many children, who have not yet been vaccinated.

We are writing about all of these challenges not as a means to complain — though it does feel good to exclaim about: Inflation! Gas prices! Food prices! — but to instead take a look at what resources and support are available in our area, and what might become available with American Rescue Plan funding. Both the City of Champaign and the City of Urbana have hosted study sessions with public input to help devise plans for spending ARP money. Some of those funds will help address gun violence and homelessness. Programs like the Urbana HOME Consortium, a collaboration between the City of Champaign, the City of Urbana, and Champaign County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC), exist to support affordable housing initiatives. It’s important to remind ourselves that even if we find that our municipalities, as systems, are not always entirely effective, there are people working within those systems to do good work to help people in our community. 

In putting together these resources, it’s clear that there is not a lot of overlap in services, which means it can be difficult to find relief and support. Did you know, for instance, that low income residents can apply for free cell phone services? Or that Comcast has an Internet Essentials program that helps offset the monthly cost of access? While the cities and even CCRPC try to aggregate this information on their individual websites, things are overlooked. And — let’s be honest, here — both the cities’ websites could use a little updating of the user interfaces.  

Because we know that much of our readership is likely not in a vulnerable position, we’ve also included options for those with the desire and ability to help with donations of time and/or money. We also kindly remind everyone that need does not look one certain way, and that those who we think are okay (students, for example), may be struggling. 

Though this is a list of resources for very practical needs, we also encourage you to think about all of the free things that are available for fun, leisure, and pleasure, like our parks and free concerts and park district programs. You can read about the things we’re most looking forward to here

Finally: This is not an all inclusive list; if there are resources we missed, please feel free to email us and we will update accordingly.


Urbana School District #116 is providing breakfast and lunch to all children under 18, and adults over 18 “with a state-defined mental or physical disability.” Champaign Unit 4 is also providing free breakfast and lunch

You can use SNAP benefits at both the Tuesday Champaign Farmers Market and the Saturday Urbana Farmers Market (Market at the Square). LINK tokens and vouchers are good at both markets, and carry over season to season.  

There are a number of food services in C-U, many of them will gladly accept volunteers and donations.

Bucket Brigade

Channing Murray Foundation / Champaign-Urbana Mutual Aid

Delivers food to those in need

Volunteer sign up; Submit a donation; Email to nominate someone in need

Daily Bread Soup Kitchen

116 N First St


Daily 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Eastern Illinois Food Mobile

Champaign Urbana Public Health District

201 W Kenyon Rd


Saturday, June 25th, noon to 2 p.m.

Jubilee Cafe

Community United Church of Christ

805 S Sixth St


Mondays 5 to 6:30 p.m.

University of Illinois Food Assistance & Well-Being Program

Campus ARC

Tuesdays 1 to 4 p.m. through August 21st

> You can donate to this program here

Wesley Food Pantry

Parkland College M-Wing, Room 138

2400 W Bradley Ave


Wednesdays 1 to 3 p.m.

1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, 10 a.m. to noon


Champaign Urbana Public Health District can be one-stop shopping to have all sorts of health needs met. Need a COVID vaccine or booster? Check. How about dental care for kids and teens? Just send an email to request an appointment. There are a host of maternal and child healthcare and wellness services; visit the website to see how to make an appointment or get more information. CUPHD also has a family planning clinic where teens and adults can learn about and get tested for STIs, get birth control or Plan B, and condoms. 

Champaign County Health Care Consumers is another organization with resources to help community members navigate the complex health care system, especially with respect to insurance. Staff members “provide a range of services including information, referrals, assistance, advocacy, and case management.”


Cunningham Township in Urbana offers a General Assistance program for people with very low incomes, as well as other services including toiletries, provisions, and rental assistance. You can donate to Cunningham Township’s Angel Fund here

The City of Champaign Township also offers various types of assistance. While not explicitly recruiting at this moment, the CU@Work program employs unhoused people. You can read more about that program here. Both townships have done work to inform their respective communities about what they can offer, which can often lead to more support from those who do not need their services. Visit their websites for ways to get involved. 

Here’s a list of cooling centers

CU At Home operates the Phoenix Drop-in Center Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m., with extended hours during extreme weather. You can review the other services they offer, as well as volunteering and donation opportunities on their website


There’s not much to do about the insane cost of fuel right now, save for not using it. If you have the time and flexibility, you can use the bus system; MTD offers discounted rides to a lot of people, including seniors, students, and people with disabilities. VeoRide bikes and scooters are also available around C-U (you need to download the app first). Bike at Illinois offers some suggestions for finding free and affordable bicycles in C-U. 


For help with your water bill, contact Illinois American Water

Ameren Illinois has some assistance programs. Learn more about the municipal energy aggregation in Champaign and Urbana

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission may be able to assist low income residents who have received shut off notices. Check the CCRPC website for news about enrolling in next year’s utility assistance programs. They can also assist with overdue water and wastewater bills

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo from the Wesley Food Pantry Facebook page.

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