Crystal Lake Food Pantry celebrates 40 years Saturday

Volunteers say that demand has increased in recent months

Volunteer Lynn Olsen restocks the fridge at Crystal Lake Food Pantry on Sept. 18, 2023.

Walking through the Crystal Lake Food Pantry is like walking down the aisles of a small grocery store. Bread, soups and cereal are stocked on shelves while fresh produce fills bins and display refrigerators.

Volunteers buzz around the pantry sorting through new deliveries and restocking the shelves. Marilyn Georgy, a volunteer of more than 30 years, said that the streamlined process is from the pantry’s 40 years of experience.

To celebrate 40 years of operation, the Crystal Lake Food Pantry will be hosting a celebration from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake. Tickets are $25, and entry is free for pantry volunteers.

Georgy attributed the pantry’s long-term success to the 17 churches that support it.

“This is a community project,” she said.

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry, located at 42 East St., helps about 300 families a week, and the numbers have been rising the past few months, volunteer Paul Georgy said. Inflation and decreases in SNAP benefits earlier this year could be reasons why the pantry is helping more families than in previous years, he said.

Volunteer Ken Grubb compared the numbers the pantry is seeing now to the market crash in 2007.

“It’s a symptom of the economy,” he said.

Demand has been growing about 4% each month, Paul Georgy said. The pantry has been feeding more than 1,000 households a month.

“Our concern is when does the demand stop?” he said.

This increased demand in services also is increasing the need for more volunteers to help run the pantry. The pantry currently has about 400 volunteers regularly helping out, Grubb said.

The pantry stays stocked from supporting food pantry drives, donations and shipments from the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Paul Georgy said he “rescues food” from local grocery stores that are unable to sell slightly damaged or food that is close to expiring.

Food donations from the community make up a smaller percentage of the pantry’s inventory, usually providing highly requested items that it cannot get from the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

“They fill in what we can’t buy, which is usually shelf-stable foods like ramen and chili,” Paul Georgy said of community donations.

The community harvest drive is one of the pantry’s busiest times of the year to gather food. The pantry received about 80,000 pounds of food and raised about $120,000 during the drive last year, Paul Georgy said. This year’s community harvest will run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry won three awards at this year’s Northern Illinois Food Bank member agency awards, including for serving the most meals in the region and collecting the most food from grocery stores. The pantry handles more than 30% of the food sent to McHenry County from the food bank, Paul Georgy said.

“Our goal is to have fun while serving people,” he said.

“And to make a difference,” Grubb added.