No one is looking forward to the coming spring months more than Mary Graziano, president of the Carpentersville-based FISH Food Pantry.
When February turns to March, hopefully the snow will be melted, temperatures will be warmer, and local food drives will be underway. As for many of us, this winter has been brutal, increasing the demand for food from cash-strapped Dundee Township residents.
Shelves have not gone bare, but they have run low at the pantry's headquarters in the Meadowdale Shopping Center. For the last six months, demand has been up, but in the last 30 days it has been even higher, she said.
"Kids have been off from school because of bad weather. They were not receiving the free breakfasts and lunches they receive there, so parents have been feeding them at home," Graziano said. "It's almost like summer."
But natural gas bills are not like summer. They are through the roof, and many families are forced to divert food money to heat their homes.
The month of March, perhaps, will usher in relief from a parade of annual local drives. The first drive starts on Saturday, March 1, when Dundee Township area merchants start a contest to determine which business can collect the most money and food for FISH.
"This is a friendly competition that runs from March 1 to March 15," said co-creator Peggy Scarpelli. "One business owner has promised to donate a portion of each sale to FISH while others are coming up with creative ways to donate."
The business that raises the most money and food will receive a trophy to keep for a year until next year's contest.
On March 15, FISH may receive another boost during the Thom McNamee Memorial St. Patrick's Day Parade. FISH volunteers will walk the parade route collecting money and marchers will walk behind shopping carts, collecting food.
The parade starts at 11 a.m. from Rosie O'Hare's Pub on Water Street in East Dundee. Marchers will walk to Bandito Barney's tavern on North River Street.
The parade's namesake owned both restaurants before succumbing to cancer in 2009. He and other East Dundee merchants were instrumental in starting Dundee Township's St. Patrick's Day Parade. He also was an avid pantry supporter.
You can read more about the parade and the food drive at Dundeestpatsparade.com.
FISH volunteers rely on donations of food and money to keep food on the tables of an average of 3,000 underpaid and unemployed Dundee Township residents a month. Money collected buys perishable food from the Northern Illinois Food Bank, and pays for the pantry's utilities and office supplies.
"Every month, we need from $9,000 to $10,000 to meet our costs," Graziano said.
The pantry has been open for 43 years. Volunteers pride themselves on never turning anybody away empty-handed. FISH has continued to serve the community through the generosity of local residents who form food drives in churches and schools and community group.
In May, those drives take a national spotlight when U.S. Postal workers across the country collect food while delivering letters and packages. The national drive will be May 10.
"This has been a rough winter for a lot of people," Graziano said. "We are looking forward to spring for many reasons."
The warm months, hopefully, will attract more pantry volunteers with strong backs. For various reasons, FISH is running short on male volunteers who can lift 30 pound boxes of food.
"These volunteers will help load and unload food boxes from our van," Graziano said. "Women can handle up to 20 pounds, but we need men to lift up to 30 pounds."
FISH is open from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is also open from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday. For more information about the pantry, call (847) 428-4357.