Demand still high at suburban food pantries, donations lagging at some
Both demand for and donations to local food pantries throughout the suburbs have experienced large surges since the start of the pandemic 20 months ago.
But while need continues to be unrelenting in many areas, in some of them contributions are tapering off at the very time of year they're usually in full swing.
"Donations are down about 20% over last year," Hanover Township Supervisor Brian McGuire said of his township's food pantry. "Traditionally this is when we're bombarded with food donations and we're not seeing it."
The current phenomenon is in contrast to the outpouring of generosity from donors throughout 2020 -- and possibly a consequence of it, he speculated.
"Whenever you have a crisis, you reach a fatigue point," he said.
But while many in a position to donate may think they're seeing a world slowly returning to normal, in fact the number of families the food pantry is serving recently increased by more than 100, or about 15%, Hanover Township Director of Human Resources Mary Jo Imperato said.
She added that the donations received in the fall are usually a large percentage of what help the pantry get through the following year.
"We would ask people to think about making a donation to the pantry over the next six or seven weeks," he said. "We need the support ... right now."
The Schaumburg Township Food Pantry also is experiencing a decrease in its normal amount of donations, coupled with an increase in costs due to supply-chain issues.
But like most pantries, it benefits from purchasing agreements that can make its monetary donations go further than can the people providing them, said Diana Nelson, associate director of program support and community outreach.
Even before the pandemic, Schaumburg Township's pantry was serving about 500 to 600 households a month. That skyrocketed to 4,000 households in April 2020, but has now gone down to an only slightly elevated 600 to 700 households, Nelson said.
But more donations are needed to meet even that demand, with monetary contributions the most effective, she added.
Being located in a busy hub of business has historically brought with the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry helpful corporate support. But while some companies such as Zurich North America and Lavelle Law continued to step up through the pandemic, the absence of many others from their offices resulted in a net decline of such assistance, Nelson said.
While Naperville-based Loaves & Fishes Community Services isn't experiencing a decline in donations, it has seen a 22% increase in households served since September -- bringing it back up to its pandemic peak of just over 1,000.
Executive Vice President of Advancement Nancy Wiersum said the recent increase in demand may be due to people exhausting the personal resources they had been relying on as well as the high costs of child care and the rising costs of food and supplies.
Loaves & Fishes has a presence in DuPage, Kane, Will and Kendall counties where overall one in five people are low-income, she added. But their neighbors have demonstrated an awareness and willingness to help throughout the pandemic.
"So far people have been very generous and we hope that continues," Wiersum said. "Every single dollar means the world to us."
Not only can Loaves & Fishes makes its monetary donations go further, but they can be made twice as strong through a match pledged for donations made on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 30.
"That's a very meaningful day for us," Wiersum said.
A lower population and different demographics are helping ensure the generosity of Cuba Township residents is in sync with the need in their community. About 40 families are receiving food assistance from Cuba Cares, an agency associated with the township, after a pandemic peak of approximately 60.
"We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the Cuba Township community," said Priscilla Rose, a board member of Cuba Cares and the township's retired former clerk. "We're still riding the wave of that generosity. Our food pantry is in good shape right now."
But further donations will be required for the period after the holidays, Rose said.
Though a less populous area of the suburbs, nowhere is free from need at the best of times, much less during the crisis created by the pandemic, she added.
"Regardless of the numbers, when you're hungry you're hungry," Rose said.