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Sunday, 07 November 2010 15:50

As holiday season draws near, food pantry relies on community

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With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s once again time to start thinking about assisting families who might otherwise do without traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals or simple gifts. Although the holiday season always brings extra requests for assistance, Holy Family Food Pantry supervisor Janet Nelson says 2010 is bringing more calls from larger families, along with a larger-than-usual need to fill the pantry’s shelves.

“I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve never seen our shelves so low at this time of year,” Nelson said. “We usually fill our smaller holiday baskets from what we have on the shelves and right now the food just isn’t there.” In general, food items most needed are canned fruit, soups, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, jelly, baked beans, spaghetti sauce and noodles, stuffing mixes, chicken helper mixes, packaged cookies, hot chocolate mix, boxed potatoes and dessert mixes. “Right now, we are also in real need of laundry detergent,” Nelson said.

Generally, baskets for larger families — those that are distributed at the Sacred Heart-Griffin West campus — are filled by individuals or families who “adopt” a family for Thanksgiving. “I still have 60 to 70 larger Thanksgiving baskets that are still available to be filled,” Nelson said. “I like to suggest that a family might give up a dinner out and instead use that money to buy food for a basket or food items for the pantry.

“Last year we filled 485 Thanksgiving baskets, but they were for smaller families,” she said. “This year close to 450 families are signed up for baskets. So we have fewer families, but more individuals to feed. A lot of them are new — they’ve never been with the program before. I think it is because of the economy and cost of living. People might still be working, but they’ve had their hours cut. They haven’t really planned for the holidays.”

Nelson says her Thanksgiving goal is to serve the traditional turkey meal with all the trimmings, plus a one-week supply of groceries. She also expects to serve 450 families for the Christmas holiday. Those people will receive food baskets and gifts.

For a specific list on what to put in a Thanksgiving basket for a family in need, contact Nelson at the food pantry. Completed Thanksgiving baskets should be delivered to the SHG West Campus at 1601 W. Washington on Monday, Nov. 22 between 7:30 and 10 a.m. Volunteers will be on hand to take the baskets and distribute them to the families.

Individuals who want to give gifts or monetary donations in advance of the Christmas season can also drop them off with a Thanksgiving food basket. Most requested gifts are Lego’s, toddler toys and baby dolls, pajamas and sleep pants for all ages, comforters, gift cards, teen gifts, electronic games and MP3 players.

Christmas food basket lists are also available from Nelson. She said completed Christmas baskets can be dropped off at the Holy Family Food Pantry (1023 E. Washington St. in Springfield) from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. any weekday between Wednesday, Dec. 8 and Monday, Dec. 13. Additionally, the pantry will be open from 7:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14. (Go to the double doors.)

If everyone gave just a little, Nelson says the Holy Family pantry shelves would be much fuller. “I would love for every school in the area to have a food drive,” Nelson said. “Several schools are already doing that, but this would be a good challenge for all of them. We want the shelves full and the overflow clear into the other room.” Of course, monetary gifts are always welcome. “We have some great volunteers who like to shop and get the good bargains,” she said.

Although she is certainly aware of the current conditions at Holy Family Food Pantry, Nelson isn’t too concerned. “I believe it will get better,” she said. “God always provides.”

Note: For more information on donating to the Holy Family Food Pantry, contact Janet Nelson at (217) 523-2450. Gifts, food and monetary donations are accepted at Springfield Catholic Charities, 1023 E. Washington St., Springfield, IL 62703.