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Still a lot on county food pantries’ plates

Visits from local families increase despite stagnant 'food insecure' numbers

Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

Some local food banks say their clientele has increased in the past five years despite the fact that the number of U.S. citizens considered “food insecure” has steadied since 2008’s economic downturn.

The U.S. Agriculture Department released its 2012 study on food security recently. About 14.5 percent of the country’s population was found to be food insecure, meaning a lack of access to adequate food for active healthy living at some point during the year, according to the USDA.

The number has remained about the same the past five years after it jumped from its 2007 level of 11.1 percent.

But since 2008, McHenry County has continued to require greater resources to make sure food is on the table for all families. The Northern Illinois Food Bank has increased distribution to McHenry County by 30 percent during the past five years.

“The recession hit, and everyone’s business went down,” said Melody Stanko, Cary-Grove Food Pantry director. “Unfortunately, our business went the other way.”

Stanko said the pantry has nearly doubled its clientele since the recession hit and now serves about 200 families a month. When she started about 15 years ago, the pantry was serving between 30 and 40 families a month.

A population increase in Cary accounts for some growth, Stanko said, but she attributes the vast majority to the recession.

And unlike the country’s food insecurity numbers, the impact on a local scale has come gradually.

Stanko said the pantry has been lucky to have community support from individual donors and businesses such as Jewel-Osco to cover the extra need, but she’s eagerly awaiting a turn in the trend.

There was a glimpse this summer. In the past three or four months, while the pantry has continued to take on new families, the total number it serves has leveled off. Stanko is tempering her enthusiasm, especially with the colder months approaching.

“I’m not ready to make that statement that says that’s going to continue,” she said.

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2013 analysis, which is based on statistics from 2011, McHenry County has a food insecurity rate of 9.1 percent. That’s the second lowest in the 13 county region served by the Northern Illinois Food Bank, behind Will County at 8 percent. DuPage County, where 9.2 percent are food insecure, is a close third.

Food insecurity, which is determined based on responses to survey questions about difficulty in meeting food needs, is possible due to any outside factor that might affect a family’s ability to put food on the table.

Donna Lake, director of communications for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, said the agency has increased the amount of food it provides each year to account for need.

In fiscal 2013, the food bank provided the equivalent of about 42 million meals, up from about 33 million the year before, to its network of 800 food pantries and feeding programs.

Across Illinois, about 13 percent of the state was considered food insecure in 2012, according to the USDA.

“Really what we’re seeing is a lot more working poor folks,” Lake said. “But they’re just not making enough to make ends meet.”

Lake said donors have increased the amount of food provided to account for greater need, but she added that the food bank needs more.

Linda Lindstrom, site director at the Harvard Food Pantry, said she’s seen a similar uptick in families served. The Harvard pantry serves more than 250 families twice a month, a number that has “increased a lot,” Lindstrom said.

But the pantry has been lucky to have community support to shoulder the extra families, she said.

“If you have a need, all you do is open your mouth and everyone comes to the call here,” Lindstrom said. “It’s a wonderful operation.”

Stats on food insecurity

Percentage of people considered food insecure in the U.S.: 14.5

Percentage of people considered food insecure in Illinois: 13

Percentage of people considered food insecure in McHenry County: 9.1

Number of people considered food insecure in McHenry County: 27,920

Number of children considered food insecure in McHenry County: 14,820

Sources: U.S. and Illinois numbers are based on 2012 USDA report. McHenry County’s numbers are based on a Feeding America analysis of 2011 USDA report.

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