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Hunger doesn’t take a vacation. That’s why area food pantries are asking for continued support during the summer months, when children without access to free and subsidized school lunches often go without. Nancy Muzzy of Peru was doing her part Monday in La Salle, lending a hand with groceries at the Illinois Valley Food Pantry.
Schoolchildren let up a big cheer when school lets out for summer — most of them, that is.
For some children, summer vacation means more hunger. Needy families depend on schools to provide free and subsidized lunches and breakfasts. Once summer comes, the cash may not be there for families to replace those free-and-reduced meals.
“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation,” said Donna Hess, executive director of the Illinois Valley Food Pantry in La Salle.
Area food pantries issued a general appeal Monday for donations of cash as well as easy-to-prepare meals for children such as microwave lunches. The biggest need items, however, are the ones you can’t eat. Pantries are begging for non-food items such as diapers, paper products such as bathroom tissue, laundry detergent and personal hygiene products such as antiperspirant.
“The need continues to grow,” said Vanessa Hoffeditz, manager of the Bureau County Food Pantry, which served 10 percent more needy individuals in June than in June 2013.
“What I’m hearing from folks is that food and fuel costs are up,” Hoffeditz said. “People are going to store but just aren’t able to stretch their food dollars. We’re seeing quite a few people come in who I haven’t seen in six months or a year.”
Some pantry managers were hopeful summer 2014 would bring less demand for food, considering unemployment has declined in Illinois. In April, the Land of Lincoln posted its lowest unemployment rate in five years, with only 7.9 percent.
Despite the decline in joblessness, gasoline is hovering at near-record levels — gas stood at $3.68 a gallon before July 4, compared to $3.41 last year — and fuel costs have increased prices at the store shelves.
“I don’t think it (demand for food) has diminished much even though the economy has improved,” said Judy Hopkins, vice president of the Putnam County Food Pantry.
As always, food pantries welcome non-perishable food items such as pasta, macaroni and cheese, canned tuna and cereal. Cash, too, is critical because food pantries can purchase food at a discount.
But pantries get no break on cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products. The Western Bureau County Food Pantry in Sheffield is among those where client numbers are flat (about 75 families served) but there still is a screaming need for dish soap and laundry detergent.
“Our numbers are actually holding pretty steady,” manager Mary Lanham said. “Ordinarily, we see an uptick in the summer when the kids are out of school, but that didn’t happen in June.”