Food pantries work to assist local residents
Niles Township Food Pantry clerk Pat O'Mara places food in bags Friday at the pantry in Skokie. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 1:55AM
Local food pantries are working hard to ensure less fortunate residents get their fill of the season.
In Niles Townships, volunteers were set last weekend to put together special packages with foods typical of a holiday meal: boxed stuffing, potatoes, green beans, corn and, of course, a turkey. The township expects to serve 700 local families and 200 seniors for Thanksgiving.
“It’s an amazing amount of people,” Niles Townships pantry manager Amy Wagner said.
Maine Township Food Pantry planned to distribute 150 frozen turkeys, gravy, canned cranberries, stuffing and canned sweet potatoes to area residents.
To help with distribution for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department will be sending police officers to help the Maine Township Food Pantry, and boys from Notre Dame College Prep in Niles will also volunteer.
“We were very happy to hear that,” Maine Township Supervisor Carol Teschky said.
Monetary support allowed the Niles Township pantry to purchase the main meat dish in the holiday packages. Dessert was provided in part by Market Day customers. Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69 annually facilitates apple and pumpkin pie donations to the pantry.
Each pie purchased in November earns extra funds for the district’s parent teacher organization “but many of our families would rather give to those in need than order for themselves,” said Market Day Chair Laura Ferrigno.
But it’s during just holidays the pantries provide food for community members: In 2011, the Maine Townships pantry, located at Maine Township Town Hall in Park Ridge, provided food for 4,770 adults and 1,834 children.
“They are all local and they have to be pre-qualified,” said.
According to Teschky three years ago there was a big increase in the number of people in need of assistance and it’s been pretty stable since that time.
In the past five years the Niles Township pantry has seen a 30 to 40 percent jump in the number of clients, Wagner said. Last month 3,700 Niles Township residents benefited from the food assistance program.
While the increased need may be due in part to a larger facility and operation, Wagner acknowledged, there’s no denying families have fallen on hard times as a result of the economic downturn.
“I think there are more people who are pushed to the ends of their limits and need to seek help,” said Wagner. “This recovery process is taking a long time.”
The Niles Township Food Pantry is a beneficiary of the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program through the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Yet government cutbacks in funding and food have caused the pantry to rely more on the local community.
Individuals and groups have graciously stepped up to challenge, Wagner said.
“We are very fortunate because the organizations and community as a whole have been very generous,” said Teschky.
Messiah Lutheran Church in Park Ridge has been donating food items to the Maine Township Food Pantry for more than 20 years. Jennifer Schneider, office administrator at Messiah, said that children bring food items every week.
“They put it on the altar as part of their chapel service,” she said.
Last year during a national event called Souperbowl Sunday, the church raised $1,186 and collected a little more than 1,000 food items for the Maine Township Food Pantry.
During Lent, the Messiah Child Care Center collects pennies and donates $400 to $800 in change to the pantry.
“They do a lot of hard work,” Schneider said of the staff and volunteers who make the Maine Township Food Pantry a success.
The Niles Township Food Pantry recently added extended hours to its pick-up schedule to allow working families to drop by in the evenings. Though their circumstances may not be ideal, beneficiaries of the food program often feel thankful for what they are given.
“They are just so grateful to be able to go some place with a great atmosphere and great attitude to get some food to take home to their families,” Wagner said.