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Food Pantries Running Close to Empty on Vital Items

Donations of food and money needed to meet increased demand and rising costs of supplies.

With youngsters back in school, local food pantries find they are running dangerously low on a chief lunchtime staple: peanut butter.

In fact, tuna, canned chicken and beans and other foodstuffs that provide protein are in very short supply, as are other items, local pantries say.

The rising cost of food and increased demand are among the reasons cited for the shortfall.

And pantries serving Forest Park's, Oak Park's and River Forest's needy are seeking donations of both food and money to help plug the gap.

“People give to the pantry a lot during the holiday season, but hunger is a year- round concern for many families,” said Forest Park Commissioner Tom Mannix. “Now is when our pantry begins to run low on supplies."

Other foodstuffs are needed in Forest Park to help the 75 families, including children, seniors and single people who get a box of food each month. That container includes canned vegetables, tuna, fruit, cereal, macaroni and cheese, soups and toiletries. They get some fresh vegetables from the Farmer's Market but receive no other perishable items.

At the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, which also serves about 75 families in Forest Park,the need has risen so greatly that clients who usually get about 40 pounds of food a month get 35 pounds instead, said Paula Berg, pantry manager. The foostuffs they receive are as balanced as possible, she added.

"It's not an enormous amount but it's noticeable," she said. "And because we're getting less food from the USDA, we're having to spend more on food."

Foodstuffs such as milk, meat and dairy products have risen across the board by about 5 to 7 percent this year, said Michele Zurakowski, the pantry's executive director.

Also hampering efforts in Forest Park and in Oak Park-River Forest is the lack of movement in Congress to re-authorize the Farm Bill. That legislation includes money for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides states with funding for food assistance for low-income citizens. The Farm Bill is set to expire Sept. 30.

The lack of action could make it even more difficult for local pantries to get the food that they need from the government, Zurkowski said.

Between 2006 and 2010, the percentage of the population living below the poverty level include 7.8 percent in Forest Park, 6.6 percent in Oak Park and 5.6 percent in River Forest. The figures are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census

The Forest Park pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Howard Mohr Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd. For more information, call 708-771-7737.

The Oak Park and River Forest Food Pantry is in the lower level of the First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St. Hours are 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, 7 to 8:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month and 3:30 to 5 p.m. all other Wednesdays. For more information, call 708-386-1324.

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