“We’re starting to feel pain” – Shaw Local

The Illinois Valley Food Pantry in La Salle set a bad record last month—the kind they prayed would never happen—when 18 new families called for help. Here are 18 clients who have never needed nutritional assistance before.

And just in case CEO Mary Jo Creedy needs more proof, proof times are bad, even the US government can’t help much at the moment. La Salle’s food pantry could rely on Uncle Sam to deliver meat, but inflation and fuel costs cut back on federal aid.

“We don’t get much meat from the government, and we’re starting to feel pain,” Creedy said.

Food stores in the Illinois Valley are asking local donors for cash—the stores can buy from food banks for cheaper than you can at the store—because the volume of people in need is increasing at the same time as government aid is declining.

“We used to get state food, but that slowed down and now we have to buy food,” said Tracy Cooper, Mendota Christian Food District manager.

Cooper also reports an increase in customer numbers — about where they were before the pandemic — with a 20% increase in new customers.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but these guys have never had to use a pantry before,” Cooper said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who haven’t used us in the past and that’s kind of scary.”

Our numbers have gone up,” said Bertie Beckmann, president of Streatorland Community Food Pantry. “We have at least three new families who come every day we open our doors.”

For both La Salle and Mendota, the big need are baby meals that can be heated with the microwave rather than the stove. Warm-up breakfast sandwiches, French toast, and Pop Tarts are needed because a hungry child’s needs are greater during the summer than during the school year when free and subsidized lunches and breakfasts are available.

One reason for the high demand is the failure of coronavirus relief efforts, removing a safety net for many families.

Federal stimulus dollars and other pandemic relief programs kept many families afloat through the end of last year, said Marisa Vecic, executive director of the Community Food Basket in Ottawa.

“We’re basically up about 50% compared to last year,” Vecic said. In 2021, demand fell a bit because all government aid programs were running. But now the demand is back to normal or higher.”

Mike Poulsen, a volunteer with the Western Bureau County Food Pantry, reported the same trend. COVID-19 relief programs have reduced its numbers from 140 families in need to 40. Since then, however, the number has risen to 86 and is increasing.

He said many of the clients are novices who were once able to get by but now need help with rising costs. Paulsen said he has an elderly Social Security recipient and a widow who weeps because he’s never asked for charity in his life — until now.

“You just can’t believe how many people are in this situation,” Paulsen said.

Demand is up about a fifth at the Hall Township Food Pantry in Spring Valley, where CEO Jean Martin reported 1,000 customers and 295 families in need, up 18% and 22%, respectively, from this time last year.

“She’s been busy,” Martin said. “But we pass. There is less food than food banks due to supply and demand but our community is always eager to help.”

Martin agreed that government assistance is required, not only for food pantries but for families receiving SFP benefits. One customer at Hall is a mother of four who reported a subsidy of $99 a month — a number that hardly covers a single trip to the supermarket.

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