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Local

Despite nutrition assistance program cuts, food pantries ‘still gonna be here’

DeKALB – DeKalb County is home to more than 13,000 residents who are food insecure and those who soon could face tough times ahead.

New rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents could affect as many as 140,000 Illinois residents in 2020.

Health experts are uncertain how many DeKalb County residents will lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, said Teresa Schryver, an advocacy and awareness specialist for the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

“A lot of people on SNAP are already using pantries,” she said. “They may have only been going once a month, but now it’s maybe twice a month. We’ve been blessed in that there’s enough food in this country to feed folks.”

Food security exists on a spectrum, with the USDA defining ‘low’ and ‘very low’ security with reduced quality or variety of food or reduced intake.

Of the 13,180 residents in DeKalb County who are food insecure, 3,650 are children, Schryver said. Of the 104,733 residents who live in DeKalb County as of 2017, according to Census Bureau data, about 12.6% of them would be food insecure.

The food has got to come from somewhere, and with SNAP benefits being cut for some, that means the food banks that provide food to food pantries have to feed more people, or the same people more often.

The USDA’s new rule restricts a state’s ability to waive a 20-hour work week requirement for able-bodied adults without children. Without the waiver, those adults could lose their SNAP benefits. The rule does not apply to children and their parents, those older than age 50, those with a disability or pregnant women, according to the department’s website.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the rule Dec. 4 to move more able-bodied recipients of SNAP “towards self-sufficiency and into employment,” according to the USDA website.

St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry, 302 Fisk Ave., DeKalb, provides fresh bread, fruit, vegetables, dairy, cereal, pasta, rice, Black Angus-grade beef, canned goods and toiletries that can’t be bought with SNAP benefits, such as bars of soap, shampoo, deodorant and diapers.

Bob Park, vice president of the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry, said it’s a good thing when people can select good and nutritious food.

“You’re not gonna be hungry in DeKalb County,” he said. “[The volunteers] doing all this work in the name of Jesus. ... It takes a lot of caring people.”

Park said various stores in the area, such as Schnucks and Jewel-Osco, as well as Panera Bread, donate to the various pantries around the county.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank serves 13 counties, including DeKalb and nearby Winnebago, Ogle, Kane, McHenry and DuPage counties.

Schryver said the food bank already has experience with cuts in DuPage County. She said food pantries in the area have reported an increase in the number of visitors.

Schryver also said the new USDA rules could affect about 700,000 people nationwide, 140,000 of them in Illinois – the second most affected state, behind California.

“It’s going to be a huge impact,” Schryver said.

Donna Brown, president at St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry, said she doesn’t yet know what effect the reduction in SNAP benefits will have on the pantry’s visitors. However, service is certain.

“We won’t turn anyone away,” she said. “The government may go away, but we’re still gonna be here.”

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