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Local Families Struggle to Put Food on the Table

Food pantries feel the pinch as more people need their help.

Families’ economic struggles continue, and nowhere are their woes more evident than at local food pantries. More and more families are relying on food pantries to stretch their budgets because there is little left for food after paying housing and utility bills. And, as Thanksgiving nears, families’ needs and pantries’ attempts to help are more poignant.

“Last Thanksgiving, we thought that the economy was starting to improve a little bit. We had hit a record number but the rapid growth had slowed,” said Melissa Travis, senior director of programs—basic services for (PRC) in Wheaton. “Unfortunately, this year we are seeing another uptick in growth. There are a lot of people who are really struggling right now.”

The PRC offers a number of services including literacy education and job training, and is DuPage County’s largest food pantry.

Travis said the agency started seeing an uptick in its food pantry numbers in June and July. “And they are still going up,” she said. “We are projecting to serve 3,500 families during the month of November this year; up about 10 percent from last November.”

The PRC does not keep records on why people come to the food pantry, but Travis said anecdotal information indicates “a lot of people are still out of work and their unemployment benefits have run out; they may have been squeaking by before.

“We see everybody from people that had six-figure jobs to people who were barely getting by before the recession.”

She tells the story of a recent patron of the pantry.

"We had a woman come for the first time last week—30-something, with a couple of children, going through a divorce and looking for a job. She just doesn’t have the resources right now to pay for her living expenses, gas, etc. so she is using the food pantry as a little relief in her budget. That is the kind of new people we are seeing; the people who have just hit a rough patch. A lot of employers are not hiring right now.”

And this woman’s experience is not unique. Stories like hers have played out since the economy started to tank in 2006.

“In November 2006, we served less than 1,500 families,” Travis said. “This November, we will serve 3,500 families.”

Figuring an average of four people per family that means the PRC is helping 14,000 people, up from 6,000 in 2006.

Travis said 61,000 people in DuPage County live below the poverty level, which is less than $22,000 for a family of four.

“And we all know you can’t live on $22,000 in DuPage County. And another 160,000 living on less than $44,000 a year.”

For Thanksgiving this year, the PRC is trying to supply every one of its families with a $10 gift card to help buy a turkey. The PRC is supplying the side dishes: stuffing, potatoes and gravy.

“We purchase a good bit of our food from the . The real question is how do we afford to purchase food? About 60 percent of our donors are individuals and the other 40 percent comes from grant money from foundations, fundraisers and government sources.”

Travis is grateful to the public, which has stepped up to increase its support to represent 60 percent of PRC’s funding. “We are really supported by the public,” she said, adding that donations can be made online at .

Local food pantries, like in Elmhurst, purchase food  from NIFB with cash donations they receive. NIFB supplements the donations the local pantries receive on-site. NIFB is a non-profit organization that provides food to hungry people in 13 Illinois counties outside of Cook County through its more than 600 partner agencies. NIFB acquires, gathers, handles, and distributes donated, government and purchased food to more than 60,000 people each week.

Donna Lake, NIFB communications director, said the need is growing.

“One pantry told me that from October 2006 to October this year, it saw a 7 percent increase,” she said. “Other pantries have told me they have 100 new families register each month. There are so many factors.

“Unemployed people’s benefits are running out, they have gone through their savings or put all their money toward their housing costs. Some of those laid off for awhile have been doing what they can to keep their houses and coming to the pantries to supplement to make sure they have enough.

“They are making hard choices; seniors are seeing increased medical bills and are making choices between medicine and food. Or if you get a job, it pays less than before. They are grateful for the job, but cover the basics and don’t have money at the end of the day for food.”

Donations to NIFB can be made to northernilfoodbank.​org.

Area people whose job it is to fight hunger know that the fight is not confined to just the holidays.

“Hunger does not go away after the holidays,” said Travis of PRC. “The people who are struggling in November and December are not going to be springing back to life in January and February. All the support we get from the community has been incredible. We have been here 36 years, and could not be here without the support of the community.”

Susan Carroll November 21, 2011 at 01:45 PM
St Mary of Gostyn (St. Vincent DePaul) also operates a food pantry. People in need can check this website for hours and/or other information regarding local food pantries; many are only open one day a week and may have restrictions. http://www.communityhungernetwork.org/cgi-bin/chnsitelist.pl
Karen Chadra (Editor) November 21, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Yorkfield Food Pantry in Elmhurst. Here's what they need and how to donate: http://eypc.org/Foodpantry.html
Bob LeMay November 21, 2011 at 02:36 PM
The St. Vincent dePaul Society at St. Joseph Church at Main Street and Prairie also operates a food pantry on Thursday mornings. See: http://www.communityhungernetwork.org/AreaPantries/area.pantries.html to look up other DuPage County food pantries.
Doremus Jessup November 21, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Maybe some of these affluent senoirs who get tax abatements that are not means tested could give a little. Recently read that seniors have 47 times personal worth of someone in their thirties.
Bill November 21, 2011 at 09:28 PM
If local property taxes were reduced maybe more folks could afford both food and a roof over their heads.
Colleen Johnson November 21, 2011 at 10:20 PM
The Elmhurst Walk-In Ministry (an ecumenical outreach with many participating Elmhurst churches) sends its clients to the IC Food Pantry, where anyone can make a donation between the hours of 10-12 Monday-Thursday. Go to the IC Rectory and at the backdoor with the Food Pantry sign posted, ring the bell and someone will let you in. At other times, leave donations with Rectory staff (front door). EWIM lists its needs here: http://elmhurstwalkinministry.org/Howyoucanhelp/tabid/56/Default.aspx but in general, they can always use (canned) protein items (chix,salmon,tuna), canned beans, household goods, and recently they've seen demand for gluten-free items. They also have freezer/frig to house perishables. Many more clients and much more need than in years past, so they are struggling to stay stocked!!!
Karen Chadra (Editor) November 22, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Thank you for posting this, Colleen!
Mike Sandrolini November 22, 2011 at 03:43 PM
I try to help out at Willow Creek Church's Food Pantry as my schedule permits on Monday nights. I don't say this to toot my own horn; just to paint a picture of the need for donations not only at the Willow Creek Pantry, but at food pantries throughout the western suburbs. Last night, people lined up outside the door for food and toiletries ... it's certainly the largest number of people I've seen to date, and it further opened my eyes to just how many are in need. I'm sure the increased numbers are due to the holidays. That said, there's a great need for donations. I know when I left last night, the pantry had run out of certain items even though they were able to help out everyone who came through the door. Here's a link to Willow Creek's Care Center, if anyone is interested in donating: http://www.willowcreek.org/carecenter
Paul Guerino November 22, 2011 at 05:10 PM
DJ I would like to know, where did you read seniors have 47 times the personal wealth of someone in their thirties?
Karen Chadra (Editor) November 22, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Paul - I was wondering when someone was going to comment on that. My mother is a senior on a fixed income (and still somehow manages to give a little away) but she probably won't be able to stay in Elmhurst very much longer because of the high costs of, well, everything. I would consider her typical, as far as income. They lived a comfortable life and planned for the future, but expenses are making it impossible to maintain status quo.
Doremus Jessup November 22, 2011 at 06:16 PM
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505143_162-57320351/young-old-wealth-gap-time-to-rethink-spending/ I would caution about putting too much into it other than not all older people are in dire straights. My point was that there are wealthy older people who reap benefits such as tax abatements while there are younger people who can hardly afford to feed themselves and property taxes are rising for them.
Paul Guerino November 22, 2011 at 08:28 PM
The people that are in their 60's now were in their 30's in the 1980's . Many of us "Golden Oldies" worked two jobs, put our kids through college, and planned ahead as best as we could. Some our personal wealth is the result of being able to work for our entire life and save our money. Some of our parents left us property and money that we have built upon and plan to leave to our children and grandchildren. The wealth that the 1%er's have was started that way. We are trying to create more people that can approach that financial state. Many seniors are helping support unemployed or underemployed children and or grandchildren. They can do this because they have accumulated wealth and are able to do this. Many seniors live in the fear that their minds and memories are going and that they will end up in custodial care. A "Home" for the elderly runs about $50,000 a year. Their accumulated wealth would vanish in a very short time. Us "Old Folks" are holding onto our wealth so as not to burden our children and leave them something to build their future upon.
Doremus Jessup November 22, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Paul, I am not against abatements for seniors who need them, just against abatements based solely on age. I'm not interested in chipping in extra property taxes so someone elses estate can be larger when it is passed on to their children. The baby boomers have been called the "Me generation", although I'm sure many are generous, some are not. If you're against means tested abatements for seniors then we disagree. Remember, Most boomers will get their Social Security, and medicare but those of us that follow will get the luxury of paying in but will be faced with cuts in benefits and higher retirement ages. So enjoy those benefits, you worked for them, only difference is, we are paying in but we'll get the short end. I'll end by reiterating my original post; if you're a well off senior please donate some food.
Paul Guerino November 22, 2011 at 09:46 PM
I am not a baby boomer. Remember I worked against Harry Truman and supported Dewey.
Jack Steen November 22, 2011 at 11:12 PM
I surely hope you're not bragging that you worked AGAINST Truman - RepubliKlan idiots are why our nation is struggling right now...remember what your guru Bush the First called Reagan's economic plan ? VOODOO ECONOMICS ??
Paul Guerino November 23, 2011 at 03:54 AM
The correct spelling is Republican. I passed out Dewey signs so I opposed Truman.
Paul Guerino November 23, 2011 at 04:06 AM
Between 3:46pm and 9:54 pm someone made a comment that was removed because it had a spelling of the word Republican that contained a slur and the word idiot was used which is also offensive. That is why my 9:54 comment was posted.
David Fisher November 23, 2011 at 04:15 AM
Donate, Donate, Donate! If you have the means, drop of a box of creamed corn or green beans or something that these folks can use, gloves, hats, scarves for kids at the grocerie store, anything! Lots of pantries listed here need us! Keep the politics out of it and just give if you can!
jacki November 23, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Karen, thanks for the plug. The Elmhurst/Yorkfield pantry has seen a very dramatic jump in clients visiting just over the last 2 weeks. Luckily, the community-scout troops, area churches and businesses and generous individuals have stepped up to the plate with hefty food drives and sizable monetary donations. Sadly, the food is flying off the shelf faster than it is coming in. Please consider picking up an extra box of pasta or cereal, can of chili, bottle of shampoo etc., next time you go to the store. We also WELCOME gift cards to grocery stores or Target, Aldi and Wal-mart so we can shop to get exactly what we need. Jacki Lawrence Elmhurst Yorkfield Pantry Coordinator
Danielle Masek November 27, 2011 at 06:59 AM
The only reason I'm not on the street is b/c I still live w.my family at 34. I have 2 degrees, working on a certificate, and cannot find work. My unemployment ran out so i'm living on $60/week. This is f***ing ridiculous.
Bob LeMay November 27, 2011 at 07:40 PM
And, yet, my 20-year-old son, without a college education, is making 60,000+ a year working for the railroad. They are still hiring, as a friend of his was just hired. And a friend of the family says that trucking companies are hurting for drivers at up to 65,000 a year. Perhaps changing your expectations of what is "acceptable" work would be helpful...
Nick Beam November 27, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Jobs need to have long term plans too. If your son's job is physical and he isn't able to work, what is he going to fall back on? Not a degree.
Bob LeMay November 27, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Well, we're getting off-topic, but many people have advanced in careers after starting in blue-collar jobs, becoming managers and executives. And the disability rate is pretty low, with modern safety procedures. Plus, there is the railroad retirement plan (safer than Social Security) and workman's comp. And the 32-year-old can't even rely on her college degree NOW, much less as a "fall-back" position. And since my son graduated from Benet as a National Merit Finalist, he could easily go to college after he's saved up some money. Plus, the railroad will help with tuition. Would you rather have a college degree and be unemployed at 32 and living at home, or be gainfully employed in a blue-collar job, able to provide for yourself, and put money away for the future? (Remember, putting money away when you are young gives you the best opportunity to have substantial savings later.)
Paul Guerino November 28, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Bob, Your son is one of the lucky ones when it came to making a job choice. The job market is fickle. I worked for three summers as an EC1 (Employment Counselor grade 1) for the State of Illinois, Department of Labor, Bureau of Employment Security. When you talk to a school counselor they can only make general recommendations as to a field to enter. For years they said IT was the place to be. Now the IT jobs are in India and countless Americans are unemployed or underemployed in that field.. Physical labor is great when you are young. I enjoyed pushing a wheelbarrow when I was young, but not anymore. The shovel and wheelbarrow have been replaced by the backhoe. Common laborer jobs, a union to which I still have family connections, are not that common any more. Union jobs in the trades have been taken by nonunion laborers from foreign countries that work for less, often without benefits. I hear the same story from parents, of my former students, that I meet in the Jewel in town all the time. Their kid graduated from York, went to college, got a degree and can't find a job, any job at all. Bob. Be thankful for what your son has. He is one of the lucky ones.
Bob LeMay November 28, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Paul, Luck had little to do with it. He was interested in railroads, he evaluated the job market and the types of jobs available in the railroad industry, he fulfilled the requirements (high school degree, no drug use, physical capability), he decided that with his age disadvantage (compared to older, experienced workers in the job market) that he would take the 6-week railroad course at a school in KC (cost < $8K), then he applied for jobs in different areas of the country along with hundreds of others, was offered an interview for a job in Chicago, prepared for his interview, and was hired. That is sound judgement and good planning, with only a little bit of luck. His job as conductor does not require a lot of physical labor. He is responsible for the paperwork for the trains he is assigned to, for hooking up and confirming the air brake connections, and for verifying the train is ready. On the road, he assists the engineer watching for signals and dangerous situations. Your comment about "pushing a wheelbarrow when I was young, but not anymore" (you probably didn't really "enjoy" it) is not pertinent to this discussion (off-thread of the food pantry discussion) about recent college grads not being able to get jobs. Few of us start in the jobs that we would ideally like to have; most of us plan on "moving up" over time.
Casey November 28, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Right now there are 4 applicants for every job opening. This is why so many suffer from long term unemployment. At the end of the day, Bob, your son was lucky. He enhanced his chances, but he was VERY lucky, too. Be careful not to blame others for not having the same luck in landing a job. Most have done as much as your son & more, but still remain unemployed!
David Fisher November 28, 2011 at 01:33 AM
Have you considered retail during the holidays? Become a greeter at Walmart, Starbucks always seems to be hiring. Volunteer somewhere to stay active .
Paul Guerino November 28, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Casey, you hit the nail on the head. He is very lucky.
Bob LeMay November 28, 2011 at 02:34 AM
First, I'm not blaming anyone, but suggesting a path, based on a statement made above, that many won't seem to consider. Second, cite your source for this statistic: "Most have done as much as your son & more, but still remain unemployed." Third, as has been said: "Luck is preparation meeting opportunity." Yes, as with any job that requires an application and an interview, some luck is necessary. But preparation is the key. A 19-year-old with little work experience would tend not to be the prime candidate for a position, especially with so many 20-something and 30-something candidates with substantial work experience also applying. (And, no, he isn't paid any less than they would be--these are union positions.) So "luck" made him be selected over the other candidates? I think not. Of course, I could always attribute it to divine intervention, as he is a holy young man who loves God, and his parents continually pray for his well-being. But luck was only a minor contributing factor.
DG Guy November 28, 2011 at 04:30 PM
If you google Danielle's name you'll find her linked in page showing that her degrees are in art. A noble field with a 3000 year track history of unemployment that spawned the term "starving artist." Obviously she knew this going into the field but is out here anyway venting off topic that the world has wronged her. Danielle - Take ownership of your decisions and you will be a happier person.

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