August 11, 2008

More People Turn to Food Pantries


With unemployment locally at a nearly 20-year high, workers at Springfield-area food pantries say they are seeing a lot of first- time visitors walk through their doors.

"The number of people seeking help has been gradually going up since last fall," said Janet Nelson, supervisor of the Catholic Charities' Holy Family Food Pantry. "Especially in the last four to five months, we've been noticing a lot more new individuals or families who have never been through our program. We think it's related to the economy - food prices, gas and things like that."

Located at 1023 E. Washington St., the Catholic Charities' pantry served about 1,066 families during the first four months of 2007. During the same period this year, the number ballooned to 1,198 families, an increase of 132.

On Monday, two of the people at the pantry were Bill Williams and his wife, Holly. Holly has a job, but Bill said he has been out of work for about six months.

"This will get us by for about week," Bill said as his food was packed up. "We had a lot of bills to take care of last week, so we kind of cut it short on food. It's either the food or a place to live. That's why we came here, so we could get some food and have both."

Bill worked at an auto body shop until it closed. He said he hasn't had any luck finding a new job, and the couple is supporting three children, ages 13, 9 and 4.

"It's just hard trying to survive paycheck to paycheck. As soon as I get work, hopefully we won't have to come to a place like this," Bill said.

Not that he doesn't appreciate the food from Catholic Charities.

"I'm glad they're here to help," Bill said.

Daryl Smith was another first-time customer at the pantry Monday. He said he does odd jobs that don't always earn enough money, so he needed help getting food for himself and his four children.

"This will help out a lot," Smith said.

Many of the new clients have jobs, Nelson said. Sometimes, two in a family are getting paychecks.

But it's not always enough.

Some people, especially those earning the minimum wage, are finding it difficult to cover all of their expenses in the face of a rising cost of living.

"Some of them just need that one-time assistance to help them through that difficult time. But then again, we are seeing some who are on fixed incomes, the elderly and physically or mentally handicapped people who are coming in more often," Nelson said.

At Kumler Outreach Ministries, executive director Michele Tucker said she's seeing the same thing.

"We have been seeing some new people that we haven't ever served in the past. Also, a few who would only use us during a major crisis are kind of having to depend on us a bit more," Tucker said.

Like Nelson, Tucker said she believes the main reason is rising food and fuel costs.

"People are making choices between food or medicine, and now you have the gas issue," she said.

What people get

Families going to the Holy Family Food Pantry get about a week's supply of food. The size of the order varies according to family size

On average, a family of four receives: tuna casserole and two cans of tuna, sugar, pork and beans, two cans of spaghetti or ravioli, one spaghetti sauce, one package of noodles or other pasta, one pancake mix, one bottle of syrup (if available), one jar of peanut butter, one jar of jelly, one pudding mix, one Jell-O, one Helper-type meal, potatoes, two packages of muffin mix, two packages of Ramen noodles, one rice product or pasta salad, one dessert mix, if available, three boxes of macaroni and cheese, two tubes of crackers, two bars of soap and one or two rolls of toilet paper.

People can visit the "client choice" room and pick out cereal, fruit, vegetables, desserts, produce and baking items. Families also are offered margarine, cheese and eggs, if available, and a choice of meat items.

Want to help?

* Items needed at the Kumler pantry, 303 North Grand Ave. E., include cereal and canned items such as fruit, and people who have gardens can bring in their excess produce. The pantry is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Food donations can be dropped off during those times.

Monetary donations can be mailed to: Kumler Outreach Ministries; 600 N. Fifth St., Springfield, IL 62702. The pantry can be reached at 523-7890.

* Items needed at Holy Family Food Pantry include spaghetti sauce, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, pancake mix and syrup, shampoo, canned goods such as fruit and meat, and toilet paper. Call the pantry at 523-2450 to set up a time to drop off donations.

Monetary donations can be mailed to: Holy Family Food Pantry; 1023 E. Washington St., Springfield, IL 62703.

Originally published by JOHN REYNOLDS STAFF WRITER [email protected]

(c) 2008 State Journal Register. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.