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Hearty donations give DeKalb County food pantries strong start to new year

A photo hanging outside Sycamore United Methodist Church’s food pantry shows just how bad things can get.

In August 2010, as the photo illustrates, the pantry shelves were almost bare – hardly any food was available for those in need.

It’s nothing compared to how the pantry looked earlier this week: Cans upon cans lined the shelves. There were boxes of cereal aplenty. Breads were lined up for the taking. A new freezer was stuffed with meat.

“People were very generous,” said Marlin Anderson, co-director of Sycamore UMC’s food pantry. “There’s a big demand for the holidays.”

Now, local food pantries and donation services are heading into the less generous time of year. But this time they’re doing so with shelves still heartily stocked with plenty of food, thanks to an unexpected amount of goodwill from charities over the holidays and newly forged business relationships.

“This is a time when a lot of people are thinking of their hungry neighbors,” said Donna Lake, spokeswoman for the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, which serves 71,000 families a week throughout their 13-county service area. “As we transition into January and February, the issue may not be at the top of everyone’s mind. But hunger is still very much a reality.”

Lake said local food banks were especially busy on New Year’s Eve as people rushed to get their donations in for the tax write-off.

In April, Sycamore UMC, 160 Johnson Ave., began a business relationship with Aldi’s.

The grocery store will donate damaged boxes or cans that contain edible food.

“The biggest problem we have is wasted food,” Anderson said. “We have a terrific food problem, but one of the biggest things is to make use of the food we have.”

The food pantry also has partnerships with Jewel-Osco and Panera Bread.

But just because food is left over doesn’t mean the demand wasn’t there.

Sycamore UMC’s food pantry feeds about 40 families a week, with the usual increase during the holidays. Even with Jewel-Osco donating 38 Thanksgiving meals and 60 Christmas dinners, there were enough donations from the public to make 40 additional boxed Christmas dinners, which included a ham and all the fixings.

“We’ve gotten a lot of canned goods, unexpectedly,” said Joel Maurer, co-director of Sycamore UMC’s food pantry.

Faith United Methodist Church’s food pantry, 325 S. Stott St. in Genoa, also saw the traditional spike in donations for the holiday season that will provide extra padding for the new year.

“I wouldn’t say we’re overstocked, but we’re stocked,” said Faith UMC’s pastor, Melissa Meyers. “What I found with the food pantry here in Genoa is we don’t seem to struggle. I think the community here is very generous. What we don’t have donated we are able to go out and purchase. Very rare are we close to being out of food.”

Although food pantries are still plenty stocked after the holidays, that doesn’t mean the need wasn’t there.

The food pantry at the DeKalb Salvation Army, 830 Grove St., feeds at least 2,800 families a month, pantry coordinator Gary Billings said. The service works in conjunction with the Northern Illinois Food Bank and several local churches.

Frozen food donations were up 4,000 pounds from last year, Billings said.

“[The food pantry is] doing very well. We will be good for another month or so,” Billings said. “We are at the highest peak than we are any other time of the year.”

Still, Billings said, donations and volunteerism are accepted Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon.

The Salvation Army will host another food drive in March to help sustain themselves through at least May, Billings said.

Over the past few years, Barb Food Mart at Huntley Middle School, 1515 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb, has experienced more new families registering for assistance because of job losses or budget cuts, co-coordinator Sheryl Nakonechny said.

Barb Food Mart also is in good shape for the new year, Nakonechny said, but also gets additional help from food delivery trucks.

“If we were relying solely on donations, we would not be open because we’re getting 60-90 families per week,” Nakonechny said.

As a homeless shelter, Hope Haven, 1145 Rushmoore Drive, DeKalb, relies on more than food donations – they also need clothing and toys. This year, donations were slightly more than last year, case manager Jenny Swanson said.

“We’ve been [doing] so good,” she said. “Everyone has been so generous with toys, coats, gloves, food – everything. People are so generous in DeKalb.”

Where to donate

• New Hope Missionary Baptist Food Pantry, 1201 Twombly Road, DeKalb

• Salvation Army DeKalb Area Food Pantry, 830 Grove St., DeKalb

• Barb Food Mart, 1515 S. 4th St., DeKalb (Huntley Middle School)

• Hope Haven, 1145 Rushmoore Drive, DeKalb

• Faith United Methodist Church, 325 S. Stott St., Genoa

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