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Crystal Lake Food Pantry sees less in donations during Community Harvest

Local food pantries in need of volunteers, donated food, supplies as they weather the pandemic

The same supply chain issues that have left some grocery stores with bare shelves also are impacting donations to regional and local food pantries.

Workers with the Crystal Lake Food Pantry hauled boxes of food and paper products into a truck Friday amid the nonprofit’s largest annual donation event. The supplies collected during the food pantry’s Community Harvest will be distributed to families in Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and Community High School District 155 for the next year.

As the food pantry notices an increased demand for services during the winter months, the effects of the COVID-19 continue to diminish the number of donations available to nonprofits like the Crystal Lake Food Pantry, Pantry Manager John Stefani said.

Despite limited resources, however, community members have stepped up to provide what they can.

“I would say it’s doing very well considering the pandemic, and the community of Crystal Lake is behind this and they are so supportive of the food pantry. We’ve already received well over 30,000 pounds of food,” Stefani said Friday of the Community Harvest event. “It is below what we have received in the past, but it is still coming in from schools and churches and individuals.”

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry already has delivered more than 1 million pounds of food within the past year and the need is growing, Stefani said.

The food pantry’s annual Community Harvest is a partnership with the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and the local community to collect food and funds throughout the fall in preparation for the following year. The event will run through Thursday although donations to the pantry can be made year-round.

Donations instructions can be found online at www.clfoodpantry.org along with a list of most-needed items. A map of food pantries and other services throughout northern Illinois additionally is available at www.solvehungertoday.org/findfood.

Crystal Lake Food Pantry isn’t alone in feeling more strapped than usual for supplies.

The Northern Illinois Food Bank serves 13 counties statewide and partners with local pantries, including the Crystal Lake Food Pantry. Although fewer people are experiencing food insecurity now compared to the height of the pandemic, Northern Illinois Foodbank Chief Impact Officer Jen Lamplough estimates that number is still about 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels, she said.

“Anytime the grocery store is disrupted or manufacturers are disrupted, donations are disrupted,” Lamplough said.

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry alone serves about 200 to 250 families per week, Stefani said. Volunteers never turn away someone in need, though they might occasionally need to limit the quantity of food that’s distributed daily, he said.

“Really what it is, is just with the economic times the way they are right now especially with the pandemic people are finding it harder and harder to get food on the table,” Stefani said. “We are a lifeline for food needs, for people to make sure that they have healthy meals on the table.”

Many households that experience food insecurity don’t qualify for federal nutrition programs, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of more than 200 food banks. Instead, they visit their local food pantries and other food programs for extra support.

As food donations from retailers and manufacturers dropped during the pandemic, food banks thought outside the box. Innovative solutions included collecting food that would have gone to restaurants, schools and cafeterias except that they were temporarily closed, Feeding America’s 2020 annual report.

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry not only receives supplies from the Northern Illinois Food Bank but also works with grocery stores throughout the county. A partnership with Jewel-Osco will help the food pantry provide more than 240 turkey dinners to families for Thanksgiving this year, Stefani said.

Donating isn’t the only way to help a food bank or pantry, either.

“Of the people nationally who are food insecure, about 60% don’t use our services,” Lamplough said. “They just don’t know about it, so spreading the word is the best way to do it.”

The Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Crystal Lake Food Pantry both are also in need of volunteers.

“We could not exist without our volunteers, and we know that they’ve been suffering as well,” he said. “We do see less people being able to volunteer from the church because of health issues so we do rely on other volunteers stepping up to the plate.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct URL for the Crystal Lake Food Pantry website.