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Olson: Donations still needed at food pantries

Tim O’Shaughnessy called me Wednesday afternoon because he was concerned that one of our stories would give people the wrong idea.

The story in question was about U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger, who visited The Salvation Army Food Pantry at 830 Grove St. in DeKalb as they swung through the area Monday.

A caption with the photo that accompanied reporter Debbie Behrends’ story noted the shelves at the pantry were “overflowing.” O’Shaughnessy, a Sycamore resident who said he volunteers at the pantry Mondays and Wednesdays, said he didn’t want people to think that meant there wasn’t a need for food donations.

“Right now our pantry is full of food,” he told me, “but it’s not really that way. There are lots of times we have to cut the amount of food that families can get.”

The holidays are the prime giving season; many charities take in 40 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and food banks also rely on the holiday spirit to build up stockpiles.

After Jan. 1, donations slow down until the letter carriers’ “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive, which is scheduled for May 10.

“Right now, the back area is full of shopping carts full of food, but the truth is … come February it’s going to be bleak again,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Who helps The Salvation Army pantry get through? Local grocers, O’Shaughnessy said.

“I can’t name one grocery store that doesn’t give us things, and not just bread that’s going to go bad tomorrow,” he said. “Some places are just incredibly generous, and if it wasn’t for that, we’d be in dire straits.”

People are served once a month at the pantry, and eligibility is on the honor system, O’Shaughnessy said. They’re asked about their income level, and as long as they earn less than a certain amount, he leads them through the aisles and tells them what they can take based on their need.

Although some arrive smelling of tobacco, using an iPhone or sporting a fresh tattoo, for the most part, the clients’ need is apparent, O’Shaughnessy said. In the three years he has volunteered there, the number of people the pantry serves in a typical day has climbed, he said.

“When I first started there … an average day you’d maybe serve 30 people, let’s say,” he said. “Today, I think we were at 54, 55, something like that.”

“A lot of people express gratitude, say ‘God bless you,’ ” he said. “It’s humbling. If I ever complain about something, I think ‘Wow, I’ve met 25 people who wish they could trade shoes with me.’ ”

The Salvation Army Food Pantry is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. They accept donations during those hours, as well.

Kind of interesting: As the story also pointed out, both of the congressmen who were touring the local food pantry voted in September to cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program over 10 years. The Senate has approved a more modest $4 billion cut.

More than 47 million Americans received federal food aid in 2013, according to the Food and Drug Administration. They already saw their benefits cut in November with the expiration of the stimulus package.

Kinzinger and Hultgren said they are for “closing loopholes” in the eligibility for food stamps, and want to allow states to include work requirements for some recipients.

Let’s change priorities: The “loopholes” that Congress ought to worry about first are the ones that allow major American corporations – Wells Fargo, Boeing, Verizon, General Electric, etc. – to pay no income tax.

They ought to make adjustments to the tax code that make it unnecessary for American companies to keep their profits in overseas tax havens rather than returning them to the U.S.

They ought to create more incentives for companies that create jobs in America. Let’s reward business for bringing work here for our people.

If Congress took more steps to encourage job creation, maybe it wouldn’t have to worry so much about whether poor people on food stamps have it “too easy.”

More on food: I owe my neighbor Elaine Lawrence an apology.

I should have believed her when she told me that we could soon be eating chicken processed in China and shipped here. I should have been paying closer attention to the headlines in September, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided, sure, we can import chicken from Chinese factories.

Would Americans really want to eat food shipped from a country thousands of miles away known for food contamination issues, lead paint that led to a series of toy recalls and not exactly the kindest labor standards?

Probably not if they could help it.

But that’s the trick: Nobody’s going to tell you you’re eating chicken from China. It’ll just be processed bits that don’t come with a label. Like in soup. Or nuggets.

Chinese factories will be required to use birds raised in the U.S., Canada and Chile. And actually it’s something that people in the ag industry have been pushing for because they want to sell American foodstuffs in the Chinese market.

Hopefully, few companies will jump on this new option for chicken imports. It just seems like a recipe for problems.

New laws: Speaking of government, there are a lot of new Illinois laws set to take effect in 2014. You probably know about same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and the new 70 mph speed limit coming to Interstate 88, but here’s a few others worth noting.

• HB 2616: Allows funeral home owners to have personal contact with consumers while a funeral director is present. If this was a crime before, I’m glad they got it straightened out.

• SB 1829: Requires the disclosure of fees for reloadable prepaid cards to be done in written or electronic form. They may no longer be delivered by singing telegram.

• HB 226: Allows 17-year-olds to vote in a primary if they will be 18 by the next general election. The three 17-year-olds who will take advantage of this provision are grateful.

• SB 1217: Allows dentists to give vaccinations if they meet certain training requirements. As though we needed another reason to keep that root canal appointment.

• HB 2517: Allows veterinarians to dispense drugs in emergency situations. What are the odds this law was inspired by the Herschel character on “The Walking Dead”?

Merry Christmas: To all of you who keep it.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor. 

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