The beginning of the holiday season is just a few weeks away, and while shopping malls and downtown areas grow busier with the holiday shopping rush, so do local food pantries.
In anticipation of this uptick in requests, these food banks are already preparing and are calling upon the community to help them do so.
Some food banks, such as the one at St. John Bosco Parish in Churubusco, are already seeing the need gradually increase. Although it’s just a small pantry used by people within a seven-mile radius of the church, the pantry director advised that it has already seen nine new people come in for help. Come November and December, they expect the numbers will go up by around 40 percent, meaning they will likely go from serving 10 to 12 families per week to closer to 15 or more.
The Impact Center in Columbia City, is located on West Van Buren Street and open on Thursdays, 1-5 p.m.
“The need is great for our area and the need’s always greater during the holidays,” Paula Kauffman, Impact Center director, said. “We have to be stocked up and prepared for that because we don’t want people to come here and only get four or five items. It’s not only frustrating and disheartening to them, but it makes us feel bad that we can’t meet the need.”
Many families will likely seek out help from these pantries to provide supplies for a Thanksgiving or Christmas supper, including turkeys and hams for the big day.
“They are looking for anything that would help complete their Thanksgiving or Christmas meal,” Kauffman said. “Meats…or the fixings whether it’s vegetables or stuffing or different things like that. They may also need anything they also could take to a holiday function.”
The main reason why the need is so much bigger during this time is simply that the holiday season often brings about more expenses than the rest of the year.
“During the holidays people are spending their money on Christmas gifts or traveling to family affairs, so they’re short on money and then short on being able to buy groceries,” Kauffman said.
The food pantry at the Churubusco United Methodist Church, though, does not notice a serious increase in families seeking help. The pantry’s director, Ronald Morris, attributed this to the fact that they already serve many families and the pantry is open four days a week as opposed to one or two. In addition, the increased community efforts to feed the hungry during the holidays lessens the burden.
“We’re busy all the time so the holidays don’t make a difference,” Morris said. “If anything, the holidays may get a little slower because there are so many organizations that give food to needy families and a lot of food drives so that helps an awful lot.”
These food pantries have grown used to the annual holiday spike and have become pros at making sure their shelves are stocked and ready. Volunteers from St. John Bosco are gearing up for trips to large discount stores up north and in Ohio to stock up, while the Impact Center is starting to store any surplus food they have to make sure their shelves will be full over the holidays.
“We are kind of trying to, when its available, to stock up on certain things, especially vegetables and soups or any kind of boxed potatoes that can be used for their meals,” Kauffman said.
Churubusco United Methodist has the advantage of a large amount of storage area and refrigeration access, Morris said, and the pantry is already tucking away food that may come in handy if this season becomes particularly busy.
Thankfully, these pantries don’t have to go at this alone. The holiday season is an especially busy time for giving, with most local organizations, schools and church groups capitalizing on the sentiments of holiday cheer and generosity to support their causes. In general, St. John Bosco estimated that the food pantry relies on the community for around 85 percent of its needs. Likewise, the Impact Center also relies a great deal on local support for its fundraising.
While any donations are accepted and appreciated, most local pantries find that monetary donations are often preferred over canned food drives.
“It’s better to donate money because people are going to pay 89 cents to $1.29 apiece whereas we pay 19 cents apiece,” Kauffman said. “The money will go further if we can purchase through places like Community Harvest.”
In addition to money, pantries are also putting a call out for manpower. Oftentimes, Kauffman pointed out, the Impact Center’s operating hours are dictated by the availability of its volunteers. So, for those looking to have a more hands-on experience with these food pantries, their time and effort will be enthusiastically accepted.