Jewel-Osco donations help food banks

By SpencerRoush

Many people who have lost their jobs or are forced to work less hours because of the tight economic times are unable to purchase food for their families, so they are relying on food pantries to curb their hunger with the help of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

On Nov. 2, Jewel-Osco presented the Greater Chicago Food Depository with a check for $825,000 that was generated from Hunger Action Month and a grant program.  The money was dispersed among 86 pantries in Chicago to help them serve the increased amount of people who need assistance.  The food depository chose which pantries were most deserving of the donation through an application process.

“Being one of the leading grocers in the Chicago area, hunger relief is a top priority for Jewel-Osco and these are challenging times,” said Karen May, communications manager for Jewel-Osco. “We consider ourselves a member of the communities that we serve and these programs fit perfectly into our corporate initiative.”

Employees of Jewel-Osco asked customers for non-perishable food items and cash donations for September’s Hunger Action Month.  The program generated $1.9 million, an increase from the $1.6 million generated last year. The donations were divided among five different food banks based on their need and the amount of people they serviced. The depository received the second-highest donation.

“Jewel-Osco has been one of our top partners for almost the whole history of the food depository,” said Bob Dolgan, director of communications for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “They are just one of our outstanding partners and make a huge difference, both in terms of donating food and funds and raising awareness.”

Dolgan said the depository has seen a dramatic increase of people in need of food, which has increased 23 percent from last year and 65 percent from two years ago. The depository has been helping pantries expand their hours, serve more people and distribute more food.

“Last October, we had been, for a few years, serving 250 households a week, up from the 125 to 150 [households] in 2005,” said Sister Joellen Tumas, director of the Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary, a food pantry that received some of the money. “Last October, we went up to 350 to 375 and maintained that, but the last two weeks that we were open in October of this year, we exceeded 400 households.”

Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary, 4541 S. Wood St., received $2,500 from the Greater Chicago Food Depository after filling out an application stating the money would be used for its 1997 high cube truck’s insurance, license, city stickers and gas.  Tumas said the pantry uses the truck to pick up large donations from grocers, the food depository and other distributors.

The pantry is also trying to prepare for the holiday season because more people come to get food and turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tumas said. The pantry usually only has 200 to 250 turkeys to donate. Tumas said the pantry runs out of holiday food every year because there are many households in need.

The pantry has 2,700 registered households that have filled out intake forms. Some clients rely on the pantry’s food and come in every 15 days; others come in on a less regular basis. She said every family has a story and needs different services.

Tumas said one of the families in the neighborhood that comes into the pantry has seven children and is financially strapped because the father has a low-paying job. Someone who knows the family helps by bringing them large bags of pinto beans, so she brings them in because she has too many for her family.

“She puts them into a big stew pot and says, ‘I’ve got too many beans for my family. I’d like to share these with someone else who needs some beans,’” Tumas said. “So even though we’ve got a lot of poor [people] in the neighborhood, it’s the poor helping the poor.”