Food pantries give back despite tough times

One food pantry helped put more than 500 turkeys on Thanksgiving tables despite receiving less meat from the federal government.

Jane Williams of the Southern Illinois Food Bank Food Pantry said the pantry had to buy more food this year because it received less meat than usual from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Still, she said, the Murphysboro pantry gave away more than 1,000 sacks of canned side dishes and more than 500 vouchers for a free turkey at Kroger.

With other food pantries reporting lower-than-normal supplies, the food bank decided to pick up the slack, she said. Still, as she and other food pantry workers look to the future, they wonder if they will be able to meet demand.

“We’re a small community, and when you think about how many in the community we feed, it’s amazing that the balance of the community is able to donate enough to feed the hungry,” she said.

One donation this week came from the Poshard Foundation for Abused Children, which brought $75,000 to divide among 27 local food pantries.

“Several food pantries in the area did not receive any of the federal food programs for a couple months … so the food banks are just depleted,” SIU President Glenn Poshard said. “Every one of them is down to little or nothing left.”

Poshard said the foundation’s research shows children who are underfed have a greater chance of being victims of child abuse, neglect and abandonment.

“We felt strongly that this is an area that we needed to respond to, and this is the second year in a row that we have been able to do this,” he said.

Williams said the amount of individual donations this year is about average for the nine years she’s worked at the pantry, and while Thanksgiving proved to be a success, she’s worried about future holidays.

“Our budget continues to exponentially increase, and we try to meet those needs and find donations either of money or food, but it’s pretty much a month to month (concern),” she said. “We have a stockpile right now and our warehouse looks pretty healthy, but because we are feeding over 33,000 people a year, it doesn’t take (more) than a few days or a few weeks to literally deplete everything we have.”

Williams said the pantries are having issues because more families come in needing food every year.

Source-Feeding Illinois

The Wesley Foundation Food Pantry in Carbondale, which is dedicated to providing food for students, has also faced constraints this fall.

Sherry Smedshammer, programs director at the foundation, said the food pantry ran low on food in October, but recent donations have bolstered the supplies. She said most of the donations came from local Methodist churches and some Registered Student Organizations on campus.

“We have our ups and downs,” she said. “This is only our first year being open, so it’s hard for us to gauge when we’re going to be busy or not.”

She said based on what she’s seen during other holidays, the pantry will be hit the hardest around Christmas.

Loran Luehr, a graduate student in human nutrition and dietetics from Steelville, said she thinks the pantry will make it through the holiday season.

Luehr, a member of the Wesley Foundation, said the group opened with a $1,500 grant from the United Methodist Church in Carbondale.

She said most students have other concerns that make helping pantries a low priority for them. She said if pantry awareness was raised, she thinks more people would help contribute.

Nick Kaiser, a junior from Normal studying speech communication, said he helped run a food drive in Brush Towers during his freshman year. Kaiser said he received a few donations, but most students don’t think about helping food pantries.

“I think (college students) could care about food pantries more,” he said. “But college kids don’t like to go out of their immediate surroundings to (accomplish) things.”

He said students tend to buy only what they need for themselves, so they don’t think of donating to a food pantry. He said it would be easier for college students to volunteer because they tend to have more free time than food.

Poshard said another problem for food banks is their size. They tend to be small, he said, so they don’t receive as much attention as larger social organizations dedicated to feeding the poor and are known only by a fraction of the community. He said, though, he thinks food banks in southern Illinois have received more attention recently.

Poshard said the university has helped food pantries by asking fans to bring canned goods for pantries to athletic events, including Wednesday’s basketball game.

 

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