Each month, Belen Hood said she is meeting more and more families who are signing up to receive food from the food pantry at The Salvation Army Tri-City Corps in St. Charles.
Hood has run the pantry since November, and said the number of families served by the pantry is continuing to grow. She has signed up as many as four in a day. Financial challenges over the past several years have led to increases in people served at pantries everywhere, and Maj. John Miller, commander of the St. Charles-based organization, said The Salvation Army is finding it a challenge to keep its shelves stocked.
Hood said the organization has seen a 37 percent increase this year. She said some clients have told her cuts in food stamps have taken a toll. She said The Salvation Army has been giving out about 900 bags of groceries each month, which she said represents more than 300 families. She said she has been over her budget and has had to cut back on items, such as meats. She said the organization has been scheduling budgeting classes in hopes that clients can stretch their food budgets, and she said she lets people know about the free meals offered throughout the community, as well as other local food pantries.
“I can sign up four people in a day, and that’s brand-new people,” she said. “I have seen an increase in clients coming to the food pantry.”
The growing demand isn’t unique to The Salvation Army in the Tri-Cities. Melisa Taylor, who runs the Between Friends Food Pantry in Sugar Grove – and also is a Kane County Board member – said use of the pantry continues to grow, but “that is expected, with the economy being the way it is.”
Taylor said she believes some people who are going to pantries actually might have had a need for months but might have been reluctant to visit.
“They might have lost their jobs six months to a year ago,” Taylor said. “People have pride.”
She said people ultimately will come to the pantry when necessary, where perhaps they might not have a decade ago. She said there is more of an understanding of the need, adding “the people who were giving the can of beans three years ago are now in the line for the can of beans today.”
“In society, people are not passing judgment like they would have 10 years ago,” Taylor said.
Taylor said she isn’t seeing a huge shortage because “my community is stepping up, absolutely.” She said the summer has been “spectacular” for gardens, and people are donating their garden produce to the pantry. She said farmers have donated from their own gardens.
Erik Jacobsen, communications manager at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, said the food bank and food pantries are striving to meet a growing need. He cited a study from Hunger in America 2014 in which the food bank learned it is serving 71,000 people each week in the 13 counties it serves. He said in the last fiscal year, the pantry served 50 million meals, the most ever. He said a recent strategic plan calls for the NIFB to have 75 million meals served by 2020.
“It’s still not enough,” he said.
Hood said she had to cut back on meat products, instead adding more vegetable and pasta items. She also has welcomed donations. For instance, the St. Charles Moose Lodge recently donated an amount of food that filled an entire vehicle, she said. Then, the organization donated $450 in Aldi gift cards.
Hood said the average client will take away two bags of groceries, some meat and toilet paper, “but that’s not going to last them the rest of the month.”
Megan Selck, the vice president and chief development officer for Naperville-based Loaves and Fishes, said the organization has seen some visitors from the Kane County area, as well. She said demand is growing. She said the organization will always “err on the side of generosity.”
She said educational programs can have a significant impact. As far as adding meat products, she said the organization has partnered with grocers on food that might be nearing expiration. She said the Loaves and Fishes group is large enough that those in the organization are able to get such products out quickly.
Hood said those who receive help often ask how they can help. She said The Salvation Army’s kettle campaign during Christmas time now will become even more important.
“The kettle becomes huge,” Hood said. “My clients are always grateful. It’s humbling. … They always ask how they can repay. I encourage them to come out and ring bells for us. If you have a few hours, give us a few hours of ringing bells. That money is so vital to us throughout our whole year.”
• For information on the Between Friends Food Pantry, call 630-466-0345.
• For information on The Salvation Army Tri-City Corps, visit www.salarmychicago.org/stcharles or call 630-377-2769.
• For information on the Northern Illinois Food Bank, visit www.solvehungertoday.org or call 630-443-6910.
• For information on Loaves and Fishes, visit www.loaves-fishes.org or call 630-355-3663.