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A couple of area food pantries have been able to meet increased demand for their distributions, but another is struggling to keep its shelves stocked this holiday season.
“We’ve had very low giving, and our recipients are up,” said Ann Lust of the pantry she runs out of the Bement Christian Church. The volunteer entity serves 30 families a week – more than most in Piatt County – and Lust says the need has grown by 5 families in the past year and doubled since starting up 12 years ago.
But she counts her blessings, including the five boxes of fruit donated by Cim-Tek last Friday.
“It was good to get up to that. It made my morning,” she said.
Those wishing to donate to the Bement pantry can bring food or donations to the Bement Christian Church, 164 E. Wing St. in Bement from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays. Donations can also be made by appointment by calling Lust at 217-678-7151 (let the phone ring if there is no immediate answer).
Other areas all right
In Monticello, Sandy McCormick of the Piatt County Ecumenical Food Bank said there are also more families than ever needing food, but that large food drives by the City of Monticello, Rotary Club and local Cub Scouts have helped fill the shelves.
“Right now we’re very well stocked. That will probably hold us for a few months. With the holidays it’s a very generous time of year,” she added, noting that supplies purchased from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank in Urbana are also a big help.
The Monticello pantry serves about 17 families a week, up from 15 earlier this year in a trend that has seen steady increases over the past two years, said McCormick.
Rhonda Tohill, who runs God’s Lifeline out of the Cerro Gordo United Methodist Church, said a Cerro Gordo FFA food drive earlier this fall netted 400 pounds of food that helps people in need the third Saturday of each month. She said they serve about 15 families per distribution.
“As a recipient when I was a single mom several years ago, I know that holidays are the worst time when you’re going through tough times,” said Tohill, adding it was one reason she got involved with God’s Lifeline. She has also used her life experience to try to reduce the shame that some feel when they receive free items. One method is by placing items this month in a laundry basket that can be used by the families.
“That way it seems more like a gift, and less like a handout.”
Eastern Illinois Foodbank
Many local pantries rely on the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, which gathers donated and discounted foods and distributes it to 220 food programs in 14 central Illinois counties.
Data gathered by the agency confirms that demand is up, especially since the 2008 economic downturn. A four-year study conducted in 2009 showed a 133 percent increase in food distributed by EIB compared to 2005. That totals about 600,000 pounds of food per month.
“Our numbers are steadily increasing,” said Julie Melton, director of marketing and development for Eastern Illinois Foodbank. “We’re serving about 100,000 people a year. We don’t see that rising another 133 percent, but it will rise.” The agency is currently in the midst of another hunger study, an 18-month that will result in a study to be released in 2014.
United States Census data shows Piatt County with one of the lowest poverty rates in the area at 6.5 percent, but Melton said it is still a “target county” because there are not as many food pantries as some counties. Poverty rates in other surrounding counties are notably higher, such as 20.5 percent in Champaign County and a state average of 13 percent.
What is needed?
Lust said the Bement pantry’s shelves are low enough that any food items are accepted at this point, along with monetary donations.
In Cerro Gordo, Tohill said she said non-food supplies like cleaning supplies and tooth brushes are always welcome. The pantry operates out of the Cerro Gordo United Methodist Church, and can be reached by calling 2170763-8411.
McCormick said monetary donations are also welcome, and that the pantry could use paper towels, Kleenex and small soaps.” She can be reached by calling the Monticello United Methodist Church at 217-762-2579.