DeKALB – The Salvation Army of DeKalb County food pantry saw an increase in clients at the end of last year, and the number has grown steadily since, DeKalb Salvation Army Capt. Michael Cho said.
“It’s not possible for me to tell all the individual stories about how or why the food pantry helped them,” Cho said.
Clients must acknowledge they meet low-income criteria of a monthly income of $1,771 for one person and $620 a month for each additional household member, Cho said. Families are allowed to visit once a month to collect about a week’s worth of food.
“We are doing very well with the donations we get,” said food pantry coordinator Gary Billings. “We’ve kept up with it because of the community. The contributions have been good, but we always expect to need more because of this economy. The support’s always been there for us.”
Their experience is similar to those at food pantries nationwide, said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, a national network of food banks based in Chicago. An estimated 37 million people visited a food bank in the Feeding America network in 2010, up 46 percent from 25 million in 2006, Fraser said.
“You can call any food bank in the country, and they will tell you the need for emergency food services has gone up and up and up,” Fraser said.
Hunger itself hasn’t necessarily gone up, though.
In fact, in DeKalb County, Feeding America’s estimates of the percentage of people who didn’t have access to three healthy daily meals at some point in a year decreased from 14.8 percent in 2009 to 13.9 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were released.
Neighboring counties of Lee, Kane, Kendall and Ogle saw similar decreases.
DeKalb and its neighboring counties also saw a decrease in the percentage of residents who had trouble accessing food but whose income was not low enough to qualify for reduced-price school lunches, food stamps or similar assistance. In 2009, about 45 percent of DeKalb residents estimated to be “food insecure” didn’t qualify for government assistance, compared with 39 percent in 2011.
But that means the growing section of DeKalb County’s food insecure – those who qualify for food stamps – could be hit hardest when food stamp assistance amounts are reduced Nov. 1. A family of four receiving an average benefit of $290 a month will receive $36 a month less each month, Fraser said.
The reduction will hit just before the holidays. DeKalb Salvation Army leaders distributed Thanksgiving baskets to 800 families last year and expect to distribute more than that this year. Traditionally, community food drives and the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Drive help stock shelves through the holiday season, and the effect of local generosity can be seen at the food pantry year-round.
“There’s a clear change in the expressions on people’s faces when they first come in with an empty cart and when they leave with a cart of food,” Cho said. “There’s a clear change in their mood. There’s more peace. They’re happier. There’s a sense of relief.”
By the numbers
Feeding America estimates of how many residents didn’t have access to three square meals at some point in a year have been decreasing in recent years.
County Number of residents Percentage Number of residents Percentage
DeKalb 14,560 13.9 15,460 14.8
Kane 54,900 10.8 62,450 12.6
Kendall 8,810 8 10,240 10.9
Lee 4,220 11.7 4,810 13.7
Ogle 6,770 12.6 8,030 14.6
The Salvation Army DeKalb County Food Pantry
Where: 830 Grove St. in DeKalb
When: Monday through Wednesday 9 a.m. to noon; Thursday 9 a.m. to noon and 5 to 6:45 p.m.
To donate: Drop off at office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
To volunteer: Call 815-756-4308 or visit www.salarmydekalb.org
Barb Food Mart
Where: Huntley Middle School in DeKalb
To volunteer: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To donate: Online: visit solvehungertoday.org, By mail: Northern Illinois Food Bank, 273 Dearborn Court, Geneva, IL 60134, By phone: 630-443-6910