The contestants were serious about their hauls and the competition, but both agreed that food pantries were the winners Monday of a five-minute race for groceries through the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly store in Antioch.
With assistants manning revolving shopping carts, state Sen. Melinda Bush and Lake County Board member Pat Carey, both of Grayslake, grabbed, plucked and swept items off the shelves in a frenzied dash during the 15th annual Race for Hunger sponsored by the Lake County Farm Bureau.
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Together, the pair tallied about just over $2,608 in nonperishable products ranging from giant bags of rice, to boxed cereal and meals to big jars of mayonnaise. Bush was the clear winner, with nearly $1,639 in goods for the Northern Illinois Food Pantry.
"Who knew I was such a shopper?" said Bush, who was awarded a trophy for the effort. "It was fun to beat her."
However, winning wasn't the important thing, she added. Many Lake County residents can't put food on their tables, and the point of the race was to raise awareness of the situation.
Carey, a longtime friend who invited Bush to the challenge, tallied about $969 in food for the Avon Township food pantry.
"You will see me practicing a bit. I'll be back," Carey vowed. She received the coveted horse's behind trophy for her effort from Greg Koeppen, Farm Bureau executive director.
The Race for Hunger is held each year to raise awareness for Food Check Out Week and to acknowledge the work of farmers and ranchers, but also to contribute to the community. The Farm Bureau bought all the groceries Bush and Carey stuffed in carts and also gave $500 to each pantry. More than $40,000 in food has been raised during the 15 years.
"The winners truly are the food pantries," Koeppen said.
Monday's competition featured a few thrills and spills, with Carey knocking over a display of ketchup in plastic bottles. Bush in the final frantic seconds sent a glass jar of spaghetti sauce crashing to the floor, prompting Koeppen to proclaim it the messiest of the competitions to date.
"It's awesome. A lot of fun. Nobody got hurt. Minimal damage," said Pete Schaefer, president and CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The agency has 65 pantry partners at 80 sites, and last year distributed the equivalent of 5 million meals in Lake County, he added.
There are 78,000 hungry people in Lake County, he said, with nearly half of them children.
"One in five kids in Lake County will go hungry this year," Schaefer said.
Wendy Warden, president of the Avon Township Community Foundation, who navigated Carey's carts, said that aspect of living in Lake County isn't well known.
"We have a devastating need here that gets glossed over," she said.