Deb Hackman of La Salle was in good humor Tuesday as she and friends with the Illinois Valley Garden Club braved a scorching sun to harvest 30 pounds of green beans, cucumbers and onions.
This particular crop of veggies wasn’t for her table or for any of the other gardeners who toiled in a communal field just west of the La Salle Fire Department. This haul is headed for the Illinois Valley Food Pantry.
“I don’t mind this,” Hackman said of the heat. “It’s for a good cause, and they’ve been very glad to get produce. It makes it all worthwhile.”
And area food pantries are glad for the produce donated by the garden club and other gardeners willing to share their spoils. The heads of most food pantries reported ongoing needs compounded by the fact that children are home from school and in need of extra meals, snacks and healthy beverages.
Hall Township Food Pantry
One service agency that has definitely noticed an increase in demand for children’s meals is the Hall Township Food Pantry, a branch of Project Success of Eastern Bureau County Inc.
Jan Martin, executive director, said her most pressing needs are dairy products and eggs to assist children who can get milk during the school year but not necessarily at home. Shelf-stable dairy products such as canned, evaporated milk also will be accepted.
Martin confirmed demand is up — she serves 300 families, up from 285 last year — and summer vacation has definitely added pressure to families with children home from school.
“We have people coming in who don’t, but when the kids are home they’re finding they have to come here and supplement,” Martin said. “They don’t want to come here, but they have to keep their kids fed.”
Besides dairy products, Martin needs microwavable meals and ready-to-eat snacks such as crackers and cheese for children to prepare without risking injury through unsupervised cooking.
“These kids are smart: They can microwave like nothing,” she said. “So anything microwavable — anything that’s easy for kids to make — would be a blessing to us.”
Additionally, the pantry needs non-food items not covered by subsidized food programs including bathroom tissue and insect repellant.
Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry
Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry serves more than 175 families (up to 600 individuals) but has dedicated a section dubbed “Kid Packs” specifically to meet children’s summertime needs.
“Children will be home, some of them without adult assistance, and needing to feed themselves,” director Liz Bedford wrote to members. “We want to make sure, first, that these children have food available to them. Secondly, we need to be sure this food is as nutrient-dense as possible.”
For that reason, the food pantry is requesting an extensive list of easy-to-prepare foods including Ovaltine, graham crackers, pizza rolls, chicken nuggets, pizza sauce in squeeze bottles, Nutella, fish sticks, English muffins, frozen meatballs and rice in a bag.
Illinois Valley Food Pantry
Illinois Valley Food Pantry executive director Donna Hess said they are “very low” on monetary donations and are experiencing a typical summer shortage driven by children at home.
“We could use everything,” Hess said. “The kids are not at school right now getting subsidized breakfast or lunch. They’re home all day and it’s discouraging for parents to not be able feed them the way they’d like.”
Cash donations are welcome, but Hess said the food pantry will accept non-perishable food donations including macaroni and cheese, canned goods, tomato products and pasta as well as cereals, which are much in demand for children.
The number of people in need is flat, with about 750 families or 2,200 individuals currently seeking food assistance. Fuel costs are a contributing factor, and Hess said she’s noticed applicants carpooling for food pickups.
Community Food Basket (Ottawa)
There is one thing Community Food Basket does not need right now and that’s fresh produce.
Manager Tom Newbury said he could use non-perishable foods such as boxes of cereal and macaroni and cheese, what he really needs to feed 392 families is cash. The organization can purchase food at a 3-to-1 discount, so Newbury suggested people should consider cash donations instead of buying specific items.
Newbury said he has plenty of fresh vegetables to give to the roughly 1,100 individuals served, thanks in part to a successful program that has Ottawa-area gardeners plant a garden dedicated to the food pantry.
“Between that and Wal-Mart, and Seattle Sutton we get plenty of fresh vegetables,” he said.
Putnam County Food Pantry
John Shimkus, manager of Putnam County Food Pantry, said he also needs cash more than specific food.
Despite sky-high unemployment in Putnam County, Shimkus said the number of needy families seeking food assistance has, inexplicably, declined by as much as 15 percent. Shimkus counted about 85 families (or 300 individuals) down at least 10.
Shimkus said the food pantry can buy food for about 18 cents on the dollar, making monetary contributions preferred to food donations.
Bureau County Food Pantry (Princeton)
Bureau County Food Pantry in Princeton also will take cash donations, but isn’t being choosy.
“Right now, we need everything,” director Vanessa Hoffeditz said. “Financial donations are very good because for every $1 donated we’re able to get $10 worth of goods from our food bank.”
With 147 households, or about 382 individuals, to be served the food pantry needs non-perishable foods, especially canned fruits and vegetables, as well as dried cereals. Fresh produce, too, will be accepted.
Western Bureau County Food Pantry (Sheffield)
Western Bureau County Food Pantry in Sheffield is holding “steady,” at about 80 families (or 250 individuals) but manager Mary Lanham confirmed that summer vacation has cut into family budgets and into the pantry’s supplies.
“We’re seeing families of three kids who can hang in there during the school year,” Lanham said, “but during the summer have six more meals a day during the summer.”
The pantry needs cereal, canned tuna, peanut butter and toiletries include toothpaste, bathroom tissue and antiperspirant.
Western BC Food Pantry welcomes cash donations to purchase food at 18 cents per pound.