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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 02:44 pm

Hard times

Area food pantries and soup kitchens report fewer donations

Untitled Document Linda Freer first noticed a slowdown in donations at St. John’s Breadline when general staples such as tea bags, pasta, and frozen turkeys stopped showing up. Freer, an assistant supervisor who’s worked with the nonprofit organization since October 2004, also says that other supplies “haven’t been up like in the past when I first came here.”
Food items such as hamburger patties, corn, and mashed potatoes are purchased directly from grocery stores, Freer says, because it’s a more reliable way of keeping the food pantry stocked and clients served. “Donations are getting low,” Freer says, “because gas prices are up and everybody is having hard times.”
Pam Molitoris, executive director of the Central Illinois Food Bank, confirms that most area food pantries and soup kitchens are experiencing a decrease in donations and have resorted to purchasing more food or altering their programs — but, she says, relief may come soon, thanks to the passage of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, otherwise known as the Farm Bill.
Until recently, the Central Illinois Food Bank was receiving fewer products such as frozen chicken and beef stew from the United States Department of Agriculture’s emergency food-assistance program and in turn was sending fewer products to its umbrella agencies, such as the Breadline. But with last month’s approval of the new Farm Bill, the annual allotment for federal food donations has increased from $140 million to $250 million and will now be indexed for food-price inflation. “We know it’ll take a few months by the time everything gets passed through and things get purchased before we can rebound,” Molitoris says, “but now that more money has been allotted for the program, and it’s been inflation-indexed, that’s going to help us.”
It may help, but does it solve the problem? Molitoris isn’t so sure. Even though funding will increase, rising fuel costs and food prices may hamper efforts to inject supplies into food programs. Even though $250 million sounds like a lot of money, Molitoris says, it disappears quickly once national increases are factored in. “We are trying to keep our eyes on food prices and diesel prices,” she says, “because that will really have an impact on how much food we get. “Food has to be shipped all over the country, so if we keep seeing diesel prices go up that will cut into the amount of food that will be purchased.”
In the meantime, Molitoris says, the Central Illinois Food Bank will continue to raise money and ask folks to help their neighbors. She hopes that area food pantries and soup kitchens will see some sort of relief by the end of the year.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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