St. John Lutheran Church food pantry in Joliet seeing 3X more visits since before pandemic
JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- Hunger in America is increasing at an alarming rate.
According to new data from the U.S Agriculture Department, millions more households had difficulty securing enough food last year, compared to 2021.
That makes it even harder on agencies like the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
"In this time of increased need for food assistance, we are also seeing a decrease in contributions," said Julie Yurko, CEO and president of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. "This year, we are expecting to miss our fundraising goal by more than $2 million."
Heather Hinthorn is the food pantry director at the St. John Lutheran Church in Joliet.
"We are feeling the pressure," Hinthorn said. "Especially at the food pantry level, and this isn't just my food pantry. We're all feeling this pressure across the board. And the pressure is because we're serving more neighbors with less resources."
The St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry is now serving a record 450 families each month. That's up from 150 families before the pandemic.
"Inflation is high, and there are lots of uncertainties both nationally and globally. And I think families are looking very carefully," Yurko said.
"We don't know the story that brings each neighbor to our food pantry," Hinthorn said. "All that we know is that everyone that comes to our food pantry, we're going to treat them kindness, respect and give them as much food as we can possibly share each and every week.
The pantry got its start 10 years ago as just a closet in the church. They've since expanded to a full-fledged food pantry. Customers can either order ahead online and pick up their groceries on Thursday evenings or opt for the drive-thru distribution on Saturday mornings.
"You kind of have a little bubble of protection being in your own vehicle," Hinthorn said. "It's a little more comfortable to access donated food for the first time when you have a little bit more anonymity while you're in your car."
Dawn Mayo of Joliet said she picks up food for her elderly neighbors every Saturday.
"It's gotten them through a year and so I feel like I'm so blessed that this is so close. The people here are wonderful, and the food is good," Mayo said.
Mayo said she wakes up super early in order to get her space in line.
"There's a need when someone is up at 6 in the morning to sit in a line; they don't open 'til 8 a.m. That's a two-hour wait, but it's food. It's necessary," Mayo said.