Local Food Pantries At All Time Low
More demand than there is food.
Bags of groceries at Oak Lawn food pantries are going out faster than food is coming in. While food supplies are typically low in summer and fall, food items on pantry shelves are even more depleted than usual.
“Never in the 17 years since I’ve been here have I seen the shelves this bare,” Rev. Peggy McClanahan said, whose Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ operates one of Oak Lawn’s two primary food pantries.
“It’s going out as fast we can get the food,” McClanahan added.
McClanahan said that Pilgrim Faith is seeing new people coming in every day the pantry is open, especially the long-term unemployed.
“Part of our heavy need right now is that there are so many people who have been unemployed for so long,” she said. “They’ve run through their resources and don’t have anything to fall back on.”
The Pilgrim Faith pantry serves the communities of Oak Lawn, Hometown, Burbank, Worth and Chicago Ridge. It is one of Oak Lawn's primary food pantries, along with the pantry operated by Oak Lawn Community Church.
Pantry coordinator and church member Russ Pluhar said the numbers of families served by the pantry have doubled from about eight to ten a day from a year ago, to 20 or more families a day. About 50 bags of groceries and baked goods are passed out every week.
A generous monetary donation to the pantry has enabled Pilgrim Faith to replenish its shelves somewhat over the summer but that donation is dwindling.
“We are very low,” Pluhar said. “We have gone out three times in the last three months to buy food.”
Church members have been shopping at Aldi and Sav-A-Lot at a cost of $1,000 per trip to restock the pantry before food drive donations pick up around Thanksgiving, including Oak Lawn-Hometown and Simmons Middle Schools.
“We can use some food drives now,” Pluhar said.
Volunteers from Pilgrim Faith can pick up non-perishable food items and toiletries collected from food drives, or schools, churches, companies and other organizations can arrange to drop donations off at the church.
Rev. Mark Birkholz, of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, said his church serves about 35-40 families per week, which is quite a lot considering the size of the small 150-member congregation. The Faith Lutheran food pantry has been restocking its shelves with supermarket gift cards and monetary donations that it has received throughout the year.
“We saw an increase [in recipients] about a year-and-a-half ago,” Birkholz said. “It has leveled off but stayed at a higher level.”
Both Birkholz and McClanahan said those who come to their food pantries are a mixed bag of unemployed, underemployed, elderly, grandparents raising grandchildren and the homeless.
Also complicating the high need is that many community food pantries only allow recipients to visit once a month.
McClanahan guesses that many of the individuals and families that come to Pilgrim Faith for food “pantry hop” at other area food pantries.
“It forces people to go to all the pantries in order to get enough to meet their needs,” McClanahan said. “I feel badly that they have to do that.”
While the Greater Chicago Food Depository stocks many of Cook County’s community food pantries, churches and organizations must buy the food from the Food Depository.
“We have a lot of churches and business who like to donate,” McClanahan said, “but we encourage them to give directly to us rather than the Greater Chicago Food Depository because then we have to buy it back.”
How you can help:
- Host a food drive at your church, school, work place or fraternal organization, or collect non-perishable food items from your neighbors on your block. Every little bit helps a lot.
- Donate gift cards from supermarkets. Gift cards for discount supermarkets like Aldi, Food For Less and Sav-A-Lot can go a long way for individuals and families shopping on a tight budget, as opposed to more expensive supermarkets.
- Topping local pantries' wish lists canned spaghetti, pasta sauce, pasta, macaroni, one-can dinners, tuna, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, canned fruit and vegetables, and baby food, as well as paper products, disposable diapers, shampoo and soap.
Food Pantries in Oak Lawn:
Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ – Located at 9411 S. 51st Ave., the food pantry here is open on Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon every week. They provide emergency food for residents of Alsip, Burbank, Chicago Ridge, Hometown, Worth, and Oak Lawn. A photo ID with proof of address is required.
Drop off food or cash donations at the church Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Call the office at 708-422-4200.
Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church – Located at 9701 S. Melvina Ave., the food pantry is open every first and third Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Recipients must be residents of Worth Township and a photo ID is required.
Oak Lawn Community Church –Located at 9000 S. Ridgeland Ave., Oak Lawn’s other primary food pantry is open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To make a contribution to the food pantry, contact the office at 708-599-4025.
St. Germaine Catholic Church –Located at 9711 S. Kolin Ave., the food pantry is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. There are no requirements for those seeking food assistance, but recipients are limited to coming only once a month. Food and monetary are also accepted at the pantry Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon or during Saturday and Sunday Mass.