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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 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

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 and

“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 , 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:

– 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.

– 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.

–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.

–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.

DLC DAVE September 02, 2011 at 12:23 PM
People need to clean out their extra supplies at home and give to these pantries, there is no excuse for anyone in the United States to do without eating,hey how about all the food we are shipping to other countries ,how about diverting some to our people ...was just a thought as these people fell on hard times and were tax payers ..how about some help to these people I will do my share as usual
Mark Dynia September 02, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Two quotes come to mind: If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. ~Mother Teresa Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you. ~Mother Teresa
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) September 02, 2011 at 03:28 PM
So true, Mark. Mother Teresa had a lot of soul. Thanks for sharing that thought.
DLC DAVE September 02, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Chinese Proverb
Dave T September 02, 2011 at 03:58 PM
How do these families prove that they need help when they go to these food panties?
DLC DAVE September 02, 2011 at 04:01 PM
I don't think you need to prove your hungry , if you have children and are in need of food they will give you groceries.. why would someone try to get groceries ,when they are capable of buying them ? this would be one low form of human ,don't you think?
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) September 02, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Dave, Some pantries serve a specific geographic area. In the case of Pilgrim Faith, the church offers its pantry to folks living in Oak Lawn, Hometown, Worth, Burbank and Chicago Ridge. PF asks people to provide proof of residence. Often proof of residence is all a person needs to go a local food pantry. In cases of people trying to scam groceries, I'm sure that's happened at any food pantry in America, but I like to think that is the exception rather than the rule. While it's true that the families and individuals utilizing food pantries do buy some groceries, their means are limited. A senior citizen living on a fixed income, may be weighing nutritional needs against medical needs, using limited means to buy medicine and less food. Food pantries can supplement limited grocery budgets by providing additional food so people aren't going hungry because they have to buy medicine, clothing and fulfilling other basic needs.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) September 02, 2011 at 04:41 PM
I think Jesus said that also in His Sermon on the Mound.
oaklawnperson September 02, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Jesus didn't say that. What he said was: Give to him that ask, and from him that would borrow turn not away.
P Roberts September 02, 2011 at 05:29 PM
How true, how true!
P Roberts September 02, 2011 at 05:29 PM
How true, how true!
Dave W. September 02, 2011 at 07:32 PM
These places are great for those that need them, and nothing stops those who 'get back on their feet' from donating back. Anybody COULD scam, but Karma is funny like that (especially essentially stealing from a church...).

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