Marie McDermott of Palos Heights, Jan Schweig of Tinley Park, and Sharon Koontz of Flossmoor race to fill a pantry cart with enough groceries for "an 11" (a family of 11) that will be given to the family as soon as the packing is finished.Do you speak pantry?
“Bags are light today,” someone mutters as she walks past the table where brown paper bags are being pre-packed with staples like soup, beans and pasta. That means Together We Cope’s food pantry is running low on the basic items people need to assemble a meal for their families.
“We’ve got an 11,” someone shouts out. That translates to a family of 11 people seeking a week’s worth of groceries from TWC’s pantry. This family includes five adults and six children, indicating two families have doubled up to live together and share costs. It will take a dozen bags of food to meet this family’s needs today.
“I got 61 on the list today,” a supervisor tells today’s volunteer force as they hustle to pre-pack 61 grocery bags with staple items – and hope there is enough fresh produce and meat to supplement those bags today. That means at least 61 families are scheduled to pick up food from the pantry this day, and that doesn’t include other individuals who may walk into TWC’s office hungry and ask for food to feed their families.
“Some help for a little one,” calls out a volunteer holding the hand of a 4-year-old boy who stares wide-eyed at all the food stocked on pantry shelves. This is a child who hasn’t eaten in more than a day, and volunteers scramble to get him a juice box and peanut butter crackers while his mother applies for food assistance in the front office.
“Speaking pantry” means understanding the tremendous job facing TWC’s food pantry each day. On average, 60 to 65 people will ring the bell at the pantry door daily seeking help with a most basic need: feeding their families that evening. In fiscal year 2010-2011 the pantry provided food assistance valued at more than a million dollars. While much of that food is donated by generous people, churches and businesses, TWC must purchase groceries weekly from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. That food is greatly discounted, but buying it requires TWC to constantly raise money for this purpose.
Carol Ettema, food pantry director, said $10 gift cards are especially helpful at this time of the year as they can be given to families to purchase a turkey or ham for holiday dinners. She also points out that a $20 cash donation can be used to purchase much more food from the depository than it could buy from any local grocery store.