Demands at Buffalo Grove food pantries still rising
Lead volunteer Margi Kaha helped the Buffalo Grove Weight Watchers donate 360 poundsof food to the Vernon Township Food Pantry last winter.
NEEDS FOR THIS FALL
KINGSWOOD: cooking oil, flour and rice.
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:13PM
BUFFALO GROVE — Whenever Jim Gibson loses a customer, he knows that he is doing his job well.
Gibson said it warms his heart when a former client comes back to explain that he no longer needs his service. So far in 2012, unfortunately, Gibson’s business has been expanding.
Gibson is one of the lead volunteers at the emergency food pantry at Kingswood United Methodist Church, 401 W. Dundee Road in Buffalo Grove, where the number of people asking for food has jumped by 9.5 percent since 2011. As the holidays appear on the horizon, Gibson and his counterparts at local food pantries are expressing concern about how they will make it through the rest of the year.
“We always empty things as they come in,” Gibson said of the donation boxes the pantry receives. “Right now, we’re getting into the busy season. We just survived the summer, when almost nothing comes in.”
In Lincolnshire, Vernon Township’s pantry is suffering from similar stress.
“The shelves are not bare, but we’re getting low,” said Kathie Deyerler, the township’s general-assistance case worker.
Both observations reflect the results of a U.S. Department of Agriculture study released this month, which found that the number of people unable to put food on their tables without assistance is increasing.
According to the study, 17.9 million households across the country (14.9 percent of American homes) last year did not have consistent access to food. Five years ago, the numbers were 13 million, or 11.1 percent.
Of those, 36 percent are households in which one or more people are working, according to Feeding America, a non-profit organization that works to ease hunger in America through food banks across the country, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Gibson said he has seen the same increase in Buffalo Grove.
In 2008 and 2009, his number of clients exploded by 60 percent, he reported. That figured came down in 2010 and 11, Gibson added, but has been climbing again this year.
The pantry has served 983 families so far in 2012, he said, an average of 26 per week, and a heavy burden for his 40 volunteers. At Kingswood, families can only visit three times per year — and the staff keeps track of names, addresses and children.
“We’re not intended to be anyone’s grocery store,” he said.
Deyerler reported her staff of 10 volunteers at the township serve about 300 families, each eligible to visit once a month, as between 120 and 150 do.
Kingswood assists the needy within Wheeling Township and the village of Palatine while Vernon Township serves those within its borders.
While Kingswood awaits new supplies — Gibson said he is grateful for the donors who have been bringing in fresh produce from their home gardens — Deyerler said she was excited about the ongoing Food for Fines drive at the Vernon Area Public Library.
Through the end of September, users with late fees can pay their dues down by $1 for each canned good they bring in. Stephen Territo, the library’s head of circulation, said the library is on pace to equal the 2,926 cans they received last year.
“It’s really been a very successful program,” Territo said of the ninth annual effort. “During the last couple of years, the amount of giving has gone up substantially.”
But the big push for Vernon Township is still months away — Stevenson High School’s Give-A-Thon. The 2011 drive produced 800 boxes full of donations for Deyerler’s group.
“Usually, their food will last all the way through May or June,” she said.
Kingswood does not have any fund-raisers on its horizon, but Gibson said the community has always come through to help when food and money is needed. On Sept. 12, the Kingswood pantry received six extra boxes of breads from one of their usual donors, the Panera at the intersection of Arlington Heights and Dundee roads. The Panera staff had mistakenly baked an order not needed until Oct. 12, and they brought the extras to the church.
Gibson has volunteered at the pantry for eight years, and said he has seen residents in all types of situations and levels of need.
“Sometimes people come in, and the food they get is the highlight of their day,” he said.
Gibson also recalled one man who revisited the church just to let the pantry volunteers know that he had gotten a landscaping job and was back on his feet. Another man told a similar story, but brought donations to give to the pantry that had supplied him for years.