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Alan Hall of Mendota pushes a cart of groceries to a family’s vehicle Wednesday at Victory Baptist Church in Mendota. Hall volunteers at the food pantry. “I’ve been on both sides,” he said. “I want to give back, and so I decided to help out.”
MENDOTA — The lines at Mendota food pantries keep growing as the sputtering economy delivers more layoffs than new jobs in this town of 7,200. Liz Bedford, manager of Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry said the loss of R.R. Donnelley and Bay Valley Foods has led to an increase in the numbers of people seeking food aid lately. “It’s not getting any better out there,” she said as food distribution slots fill up faster than ever. “I had a gentleman here who is a retired veteran, lifetime of service to his country and now has Parkinson’s disease. It took him three months to get a Link card.” The Link card, issued to residents of the state of Illinois who qualify for assistance, aren’t being issued fast enough to meet the needs of the elderly, the underemployed and the unemployed in the Mendota area. Bedford said food pantries are feeling the pinch, so much so that she is now referring clients to other food pantries. “We haven’t had a day yet this month that hasn’t been completely full,” she said. “We’re getting families faster than we can feed them.” Bedford said they also face a shortage of volunteers which keeps them from opening more than two days a week. “If we had more volunteers we could open another day and find a way to get the food in here,” she said. Instead, another food pantry in Mendota, Body and Soul Food Ministries run by Traci Manion out of the Victory Baptist Church at 1610 Stroble Ave., has been doing what they can to help. The pantry first opened in October 2011 and started feeding as many as 239 people in 72 families on distribution nights. Manion said the number dropped off for awhile, but has started to grow again as more families seek out their assistance. The ministry is open on the first and third Wednesdays of the month and it’s run with no questions asked. Manion said the only thing they ask is the number of people in each family. Those receiving assistance are asked to participate in a short devotional, but no one is turned away regardless of location of residence or church affiliation. Manion once worked at a food pantry and asked her pastor, Steve Breedlove, about starting one in Mendota. Unlike the daytime hours at Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry, Body and Soul is open from 5 - 7 p.m. “When it came up, our pastor had this phrase about ‘loving loud’,” she said. “How much louder can you get than a food pantry?” Bedford said Body and Soul has filled a huge need in the area, particularly since they are open at night. She said volunteers for the two days a week are scarce and she now has many clients who also help as volunteers at Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry. Body and Soul operates independently of the church but with financial support from members. Manion said probably almost all of the financial support comes from Victory Baptist members. Her husband, Dave, one of many volunteers, said the church doesn’t believe in regular attendance as a measure of faith. “We don’t just go to church, we are the church,” he said. While they wouldn’t turn anyone away on Sunday, the food pantry mission is an important way for members to reach out to the community and fulfill their Christian beliefs. The Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry also has a strong church-based support system and Bedford said many food pantries have the same faith-based system that is evident only in the caring, compassionate way they reach out to those in need. Neither food pantry receives any government assistance and only Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry accepts any food from the government. Manion said Body and Soul uses donations to purchase food from a food bank in Sterling. Clients at both food pantries then shop for food on the distribution dates so they take only what they will use. Along with volunteers, Bedford said they need more food for special diets. Many of the clients have chronic health conditions so they now offer a special area to accommodate those needs. “We’ve had a very large number of senior citizens and people in their early 60s with special food needs,” she said. “If I had a nickel for every diabetic client that we get in here, I’d have a lot of nickels. I’d be able to do a lot with all those nickels; it’s a huge issue.”