Eastern Illinois Foodbank
CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS (Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette) - About 1,000 people show up for the Wesley Foundation's food pantry every month, but there's usually no meat on the menu.
Despite its popularity, the pantry can't afford a refrigerator or freezer to store meat for the giveaway.
That will change soon, thanks to a grant from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank for a new commercial freezer. The food bank awarded $58,000 this month to 15 agencies across the region so they can stock more produce, meat, dairy products and other healthy fresh food.
"Having a freezer now will be particularly wonderful, because in the summer we have our highest numbers," said Donna Camp, who runs the Wesley United Methodist Evening Food Pantry. "We should be able to give each household something."
The grants are part of the food bank's new Healthy Futures Initiative to increase access to nutritious foods, particularly for children, Executive Director Jim Hires said.
Lack of freezer and refrigerator capacity has long been an obstacle to providing adequate fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and other fresh foods, officials said. If agencies can offer perishable foods on a consistent basis, it can help families make healthy choices, said Andrea Rundell, director of programs at the food bank.
"It's about getting healthy food out there," Rundell said. "People want healthy food. People love to see produce."
The grants are going to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Champaign, Vermilion, Douglas, and Iroquois counties. Besides Wesley, they include the Center for Women in Transition, Community Elements' TIMES Center and Salvation Army Food Pantry in Champaign; Sheldon Area Food Pantry in Iroquois County; Arcola and SAM food pantries in Douglas County, and St. James Food Pantry in Danville. In all, 20 agencies submitted requests for grants.
The money can be used to buy a new refrigerator or freezer, repair an old one or update electrical systems to support commercial-grade units.
The St. James pantry had an opportunity for a donated walk-in freezer but couldn't afford to move it to the church and pay for the electrical improvements needed, coordinator Carol Olson said. The $1,700 grant covered those costs, and the freezer was installed this week, just in time for its monthly food giveaway from 5 to 7 p.m. today, Olson said.
Before, she had to store frozen food in nine different small freezers at the church.
"This is going to make it so much easier," Olson said Tuesday. "We were thrilled. The food bank is wonderful. Our food pantry couldn't exist without it."
Wesley plans to buy a two-door freezer, allowing the pantry to take advantage of meats periodically available from the food bank, Camp said. She likes to provide families with high-density protein, but that's hard to do with canned goods.
"Usually our only choices are tuna and peanut butter," she said.
Camp plans to reapply for a grant next year to buy a refrigerator. Eggs are high on most families' wish lists, she said.
The Wesley food pantry is open every third Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m., including this week.
Money for the grants comes from an endowment created last year by the food bank's board after it sold some property bequeathed to the agency, Hires said. Earnings on the endowment are restricted to "capacity building" for its 200-plus member agencies, he said.
The grants will be awarded on an annual basis, and they will likely focus on refrigeration for several years, Hires said, as 90 percent of the emergency food programs need cold storage.
The Healthy Futures Initiative started with the food bank's backpack program, which sends healthy snacks home with schoolchildren every weekend, and efforts have been made to stock the agency's Foodmobile with more fresh produce, Hires said.
"It's all about getting more food to more people," he said.
Copyright 2014 Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette
Updated 1063 days ago Article ID# 1030011
Eastern Illinois Foodbank