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Local

Area food pantries scramble to feed growing number of in-need residents amid COVID-19 crisis

Since Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order went into effect March 21, DCCG's mobile food pantry, the Grow Mobile, has held eight mobile pantries in 17 days, including at Sandwich, Malta, DeKalb and Sycamore, said Dan Kenney, (left) director of DeKalb County Community Gardens.
Since Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order went into effect March 21, DCCG's mobile food pantry, the Grow Mobile, has held eight mobile pantries in 17 days, including at Sandwich, Malta, DeKalb and Sycamore, said Dan Kenney, (left) director of DeKalb County Community Gardens.

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A volunteer at Kirkland Food Pantry at the First Lutheran Church, 510 W. South St. in Kirkland has tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the shelter to close for two weeks as a precaution, said Dan Kenney.

"The patrons of the Kirkland pantry will now be going to the Genoa Food Hub," Kenney said in an email to the Daily Chronicle.

It's just one of the many new challenges facing DeKalb County food pantries as the number of residents facing food shortages grows amid the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"DeKalb County has never seen this kind of increase in the need for food so quickly," Kenney, executive director and founder of the DeKalb County Community Gardens said.

Kenney said the DCCG also recently delivered food to the door of a family under quarantine because the mother had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

In the last week alone, over 200,000 Illinoisans have filed for unemployment, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security data. In the past three week, 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid, according to federal data. The national figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.

School districts across the state have also locked buildings and moved to remote learning per the governor's order, though districts in DeKalb County have continued to provide free meals twice a day.

He said the DCCG volunteers and staff on Tuesday distributed food in Malta and served 80 household, 255 individuals, and 45 residents 60 years and older.

The Genoa Area Community Food Hub, which opened in January, has seen the numbers of families served tripled in the last few weeks, Kenney said.

Since Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order went into effect March 21, DCCG's mobile food pantry, the Grow Mobile, has held eight mobile pantries in 17 days, including at Sandwich, Malta, DeKalb and Sycamore, Kenney said.

During those eight pantries, the Grow Mobile serviced 762 households and 2,224 individuals, including 336 who were 60 or older.

The DCCG has also partnered with Elder Care Services and the DeKalb County Voluntary Action Center to make 37 home deliveries to the elderly, or residents struggling with mental illness or medical conditions which them unable to shop themselves.

In the past 17 days, the community gardens has distributed over 20,000 pounds of food, equivalent to nearly 15,385 meals, he said.

Kenney said he expects the need to only increase.

"74% of those coming to pick up food from our mobile pantries are individuals who have never used a food pantry before this pandemic and the resulting shut down."

The Grow Mobile will hold two pop-up food pantries this Saturday, April 11, which are free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, no information required.

The mobile pantry will be 8 to 10 a.m. in Kingston at the Friendship Center,120 Main Street and noon to 3 p.m. or until all pre-boxed food has been distributed at the Suburban Apartments and Suburban Estates office, 1400 Twombly Road in DeKalb.

Distributions are all "grab-n-go," drive-thru or walk up, and food is pre-boxed by volunteers. Patrons of the mobile pantries are asked to not bring their own bags during this time, and to remain in their cars and a volunteer will place the food in the trunk of their car.

All volunteers will be wearing protective face-coverings and gloves. For further information or with questions, call 815-793-0950.

Shaw Media's Katie Finlon contributed to this article.

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