Daily Egyptian

Annual Food Fair brings out the community

By Ahmad Hicks, @AhicksSports_DE

A truckload of nearly 20,000 pounds of food dropped off Wednesday in the parking lot of the American Legion in Murphysboro, will help feed 200 families in need.

The annual Jackson County Food Fair took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Murphysboro Food Pantry—which typically serves 800 to 900 people per year.

Jane Williams, a lead volunteer, said she loves giving back to the community and the families in need.

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“Each car will get around 90 pounds of food including apples, cereal, chicken, sausage and so on,” Williams said.

The food drive consisted of 60 to 70 volunteers from the SIU Arnold Air Society, senior volunteers—some over the age of 80—Feeder of the Pack and student athletes within SIU athletics.

Saluki wide receiver Billy Reed, a junior from Joliet studying finance, came to the event with his teammates and said it was fun to interact with fans of Saluki football.

“It felt good helping out the community and realizing how many football fans there are in the community,” he said.

Shane Pficer was at the food fair not to get food for himself, or volunteer, but to give assistance to his neighbor with a disability.

“This teaches you self-perseverance, it shows you that everything is not as bad as you think it is, you’ll meet someone in a worse situation,” Pficer said.

Pete Pederson, of Murphysboro, learned about the pantry through a church service and has been volunteering for three years.

“It’s nice that most of our volunteers work at the food pantry or are in some way connected with it,” Pederson said.

The Murphysboro Food Pantry is one of 150 agencies that partners with the St. Louis area Food Bank. Last year the St. Louis organization distributed more than 35 million pounds of food in Missouri and Illinois, according to Allison Jones an employee at the food bank.

To determine how much food the Murphysboro pantry gets, the organization submits statistics to the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The USDA also watches the government statistics on unemployment rates and the economic levels of the people, and it turns out that Jackson County is the poorest by statistic,” Williams said.

To be qualified to receive food, families must be eligible under the USDA economic guidelines. They fill out a USDA voucher listing how many people are in their household and their household income. If all the requirements are met, the family is eligible to receive food.

Williams said the Murphysboro Food Pantry is operated by about 40 volunteers, who pitch in during their free time.

“No one receives a salary here, so it really means a lot when people come in to help out each week,” she said.  

The pantry also relies heavily on the community for financial donations.

When Williams started volunteering for the food pantry in 2006, she said the group only had a $20,000 budget. She helped bring in $260,000 in donations for 2014, which helped buy food and a $37,539 walk-in freezer to help store the food.

The goal for the food fair was to service the 200 vouchers the USDA allowed the pantry to pass out and approve upon arrival.

“Typically out of 200, we might have 40 vouchers that don’t get redeemed, and that’s probably where we are again today, which is what we expected,” Williams said.

As for the remaining food parcels that did not get distributed, they will be passed out Thursday at the Murphysboro Food pantry.

The pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Ahmad Hicks can be reached at [email protected]

Heather Cachola contributed to this report and can be reached at [email protected]

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