Local pantries see increase in need
STERLING – Rock Falls residents Olga Hyles and Charlie Potts visit several local food pantries regularly as they deal with utility bills and other expenses.
The couple are not alone.
Local food pantries have seen dramatic increases in the numbers of people who need their services – and their directors have a simple explanation:
Potts, 52, worked 20 years in construction and had his own landscaping business for 5 years, he said. Business went bad, and a developer he was working with filed for bankruptcy, then he was forced to retire when he broke his shoulder in March while trimming a tree in his yard, he said.
“People are scratching trying to buy groceries,” said Hyles, 50. “People have to do what they have to do to survive.”
Potts, who has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has had trouble breathing in the humid summer weather, so they have had to use the air conditioner regularly. Their monthly utility bill, usually $150, jumped to $214 this summer.
Expenses have caused the couple to make tough decisions.
“It’s either gas or eat, or medicine or eat,” Potts said.
Hyles and Potts planted a small garden in their backyard in hopes that it would yield green beans and tomatoes, but only three small tomatoes grew in the drought.
“The plants dried up to dust because of the heat,” Potts said.
Lt. Cindy Marquis is corps officer at the Salvation Army in Sterling, which has seen a large increase in the amount of food requested. The need was so great that the pantry changed its policy in June from allowing clients to pick up food every 90 days to allowing them to come every 30 days. And that’s not the only reason they have been giving more food; the number of individuals served has at least tripled, Marquis said.
“We also have quite a lot of people who need to spend what cash they have on things like keeping electricity or water on because in heat without air conditioning, if you have little ones or the elderly, that can be life-threatening,” Marquis said. “It’s easier to get assistance with food than with a water bill or electric bill.”
Some pantries often see an increase in need during summer months when students don’t get fed at school, Marquis said. But pantries are seeing more need this summer than last.
Faith Food Family Outreach at Abiding Word Church in Sterling actually sees a drop in need most summers, but not this year, said coordinator Debbie Mills. The pantry has seen record need compared with other summers, Mills said, giving four to five baskets of food a week this summer when it used to give two a week. Clients are allowed one basket a week.
Most local pantries buy food by the pound at a discount from Sauk Valley Food Bank.
Carol Siefken, director at the food bank, said need is up by about a third in this area since last year.
“We’re hanging in there,” she said. “It just keeps increasing,” especially during summer months.
Siefken said the increase in need isn’t due only to a lack of jobs.
“The jobs that we do have don’t pay enough, and the new thing with the state making Medicare changes and Medicaid and things like that, everything is changing and people just don’t have the money,” she said. “They have to pay their bills to have a roof over their heads, and food comes last.”
The food bank receives items that are about to expire from the Walmart Distribution Center and Kroger store in Sterling and the Walmart store in Dixon.
Need also has increased at the St. Vincent De Paul Society food pantry in Sterling.
“It’s staggering, to be honest with you,” said Vice President Sue Harkness. “We’re doing the best we can.”
The pantry serves about 10 families a day, up from four or five families a day 3 years ago, Vice President Paul Hess said. The pantry gives a few days’ worth of food at a time, although it tries to give a week’s worth, Hess said. The pantry has had to decrease the frequency with which it gives food to a family, from every 30 days to every 60 days. That policy was instituted about a year ago after a large increase in the number of clients.
FISH Emergency Pantry in Sterling has doubled its expenditures in the past 6 months, said the Rev. Paul Judd. The pantry spends $4,000 a month to keep up with need, whereas 6 months ago it was spending $2,000, he said.
“We’re having to purchase more food to provide,” he said.
Trinity United Methodist Church’s food pantry in Sterling has seen an increase from 274 people served in July last year to about 300 people served last month, secretary Gwen Lucas said. Her unemployed clients are having such a hard time they’re losing their homes, she said.
“No jobs. No jobs,” she said. “We have families moving in together.”
Many of Lucas’ clients have been laid off from work, she said.
The pantry, like several others, tries to supply personal care items, such as toothpaste and laundry detergent, because people who qualify for food stamps – known now as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – can’t buy those items with their SNAP benefits.
“They really need to re-do their system, in my opinion,” Lucas said. “They can buy pop and candy, but basics they can’t buy with food stamps.”
At Whiteside County Senior Center in Sterling, clients come in at 8 a.m. Tuesdays to the pantry, which also is a cooling center. They take a number and have coffee as they wait for 10 a.m., when they have the chance to choose items they want. The pantry has been serving about 200 households a month, about 20 households more than last year, said office manager Betty Meenen.
“It seems like I’m getting more [clients] all the time,” Meenen said. Many of her clients have said they receive $12-16 a month through the SNAP program, she said.
“The food goes fast,” Meenen said.
Dixon Community Food Pantry has seen an increase in new clients, but not a large increase, and the pantry is not experiencing shortages, President Delores Kness said. Last year the pantry served 12,200 adults and children. In the first 6 months of this year, it served about 6,000, she said.
“We’re just kind of even,” she said.
The Whiteside County pantries might see more need because of the larger population, and because the county’s pantries aren’t so centrally located as in Lee County, where the Dixon pantry serves many residents, Kness said.
“People go from one [pantry] to another [in Whiteside],” she said.
Several pantries, such as FISH and Trinity United Methodist, have reported that they often run low on perishable, protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat and fish. But monetary donations to the pantries often are more helpful than food donations, Siefken said, because the pantries can buy food for such a low price at the food bank.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not decreased SNAP benefits in the past year. A decrease of $1 to $3 a month per household was enacted for some participants in June 2011, said Illinois SNAP Director Jan Freeman.
The number of people in the state using SNAP has increased, though, Freeman said. In June, 918,947 households were receiving SNAP benefits, up from 872,630 in June last year, she said.
“We have really skyrocketed,” she observed. “We’re attributing most of it to the recession. We’re at the highest levels we’ve ever been.”
To get food or to donate
The following are pantries and food kitchens in Lee and Whiteside counties:
• First Baptist Church of Amboy
24 N. Mason Ave. (U.S. Route 52)
Contact: Carol Fritz 815-857-2682
Hours: 9 a.m. to noon the first and third Saturdays of the month
• St. Patrick Community Food Pantry
32 N. Jones St.
Available only to Amboy residents
Hours: 9 to 10 a.m. the third Wednesday of the month
• Dixon Community Food Pantry
2001 W. Fourth St.
Contact: Delores Kness, 815-288-4848
Hours: 1 to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday
• St. Patrick’s Loaves and Fishes
Holloway Center, 612 Highland Ave.
Contact parish office at 815-284-7719
Hours: 5 to 6 p.m. Monday evenings, free meals
• Morrison Friends Food Pantry
203 W. Knox St.
Serves households only in the Morrison School District
Hours: 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., Thursdays
Director: Kaywyn Bswick
• Faith Food Family Outreach at Abiding Word Church
806 E. Lynn Blvd.
Contact: Debbie Mills, 815-626-1827
• Firehouse of God Ministries
306 Fifth Ave.
Hours: Serves 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 1 p.m. Saturday
• FISH Emergency Pantry
902 E. Fifth St.
Contact: (815) 626-1734
• Helping Hands, Sterling First Church of the Nazarene
411 13th Ave.
Contact: Bob Inboden, 815-625-0864
Hours: 9 to 11 a.m Tuesday; 9 a.m. to noon Thursday
• Salvation Army
409 Ave. F.
Contact: Lt. Cindy Marquis, 815-625-1622
Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
• St. Vincent De Paul Society
7 W. Sixth St.
Hours: Noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 to 7 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of the month
Vice President: Paul Hess
• Trinity United Methodist Church
205 E. Tenth St.
Contact: Gwen Lucas, 815-626-7777
Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday
• Whiteside County Senior Center
1207 W. Ninth St.
Contact: Betty Meenen, 815-626-7707
Hours: 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays
In Rock Falls
• Rock Falls First Christian Church
506 Fifth Ave.
Contact: Edythe Geiger, 815-626-2271
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and Friday
• Rock River Christian Center food pantry
1800 Prophet Road.