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Chicago food depository donations way down

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An organization that helps to feed the poor and the needy has a need of its own.

Donations to the Greater Chicago Food Depository are drastically down, and with the cost of food growing, organizers say they are doing their best to not pass those costs on to local food banks that in some cases have had to cut down on the size of their service areas.

At the Oak Park/River Forest Food Pantry, they are unpacking crates of donated food and supplies -- such as hard to get diapers -- and expressing thanks for a $10,000 donation from employees of AT&T.

"The price of all food is going up, as well as for the food depository so we had to ramp up our fundraising this year," said Oak Park/River Forest Food Pantry's Kathy Russell.

That kind of cash can go some of the way to meeting the growing needs of this and other Chicago-area pantries. While they get their own donations, much of their inventory comes from the Greater Chicago Food Depository -- where skyrocketing commodity prices have caused such food bank staples as peanut butter to double in cost.

The depository is absorbing some of the costs, but the agencies are paying more for the subsidized food they buy from the depository. At Oak Park/River Forest that has forced officials to cut the zip codes it serves from 28 to 10. And in Maywood, service boundaries have been shrunk.

"Food drives take on additional importance at this time of year," said GCFD's Kate Maehr.

Food for the Greater Chicago Food Depository comes from the following sources:

  • 47 percent is donated,
  • 15 percent is purchased at huge discounts and then offered to agencies at 50 percent of cost,
  • 1 percent is from food drives,
  • and 37 percent from government hunger relief programs.

It's in this last category that the depository is seeing a shortfall of 7 million pounds of food.

"We have less food this year than last year," Maehr said.

Even with an unemployment rate now sliding below 9 percent, the demand for food is a high as ever.

"There have been a couple of times when we have used up all the donations we have gotten," said Flora Miller, Canaan AME's Food Pantry.

In addition to peanut butter, canned corn has is 30 percent more expensive than last year. The Greater Chicago Food Depository says that alone is monumental challenge -- as the organization pledges to always have canned vegetables on hand.

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