An effort by Oak Park police to provide the families of their officers with a year-long work schedule has become a fundraising tool that recently benefited the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry. Last Wednesday morning Sgt. Paul Jepsen and Officer Ron Bongat turned over checks totaling $400 to food pantry officials Kathy Russell and Anne Wakely. The money came from the sale of a 2006 calendar featuring photos of Oak Park police at various activities, for which Oak Park officers were asked to pay $5 per a copy.

That money comes at a particularly fortuitous time. Russell said cash donations are down some $10,000 from this time last year, while demand for their services remains strong.

“With the dollars from this [check] we can buy a lot of food,” said Wakely, who said that the pantry is allowed to purchase food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository at very low cost.

The calendar all started with an idea by Sgt. Dan Silva (not to be confused with his brother, Sgt. DonSilva), who suggested doing a formal calendar to give officer’s families a clear reference tool for figuring out days off. Oak Park officers, Jepsen explained, work six-day weeks, and are given two three-day weekends every five weeks to make up for that. The schedule is comprised of 13 periods of 28 days each, which turn over on a Thursday. That can prove confusing to the wives and husbands of Oak Park cops, hence Silva’s brainstorm. Jepsen liked Silva’s idea, but thought he could take it a step further and help some of Oak Park’s needy residents in the process.

“I said, hey, why don’t we add some pictures to it and make a (fundraising) calendar out of it,” he said.

“I was looking for someone local,” said Jepsen, who thought of the food pantry as a deserving beneficiary after recalling dropping off Thanksgiving food at the pantry’s first location at Cuyler Avenue and Ontario Street some 15 years ago.

Russell said while people traditionally give more at the holidays, the food pantry and its 15 volunteers help feed needy folks all 52 weeks of the year, averaging 60 to 70 families a week.

Besides individual donations, the food pantry benefits from the largesse of several local businesses. Oak Park Bakery donates bread, and Perfect Dinner regularly provides leftover food. And Sachem Company, which is run by Paul Beckwith, the husband of the food pantry’s previous coordinator, Leah Beckwith, also provides significant contributions through its connections with the retail food industry.

While both food and cash donations are warmly welcomed, money and non-perishables aren’t the only things the pantry needs, Russell pointed out. The highest costs involve meat and poultry, she said. In fact, on the morning Jepsen came in with the police donation, Russell and Wakely were busy thawing out several hundred pounds of frozen chicken that would be passed out later that afternoon. That sort of food volume requires large freezers. The pantry currently has two freezers and two refrigerators, all of which are maxed out, and Russell said that they could use another new industrial freezer to store meat and poultry.

This isn’t Jepsen’s first involvement in fundraising. He and his wife Kirsten own a popular bakery, Kirsten’s Danish Bakery, in Burr Ridge. For the past several years, the bakery has donated its leftover bread on Saturdays to Jepsen’s Hinsdale church. People take whatever they want and leave a donation, which then goes to a local food pantry in that area. Over the past three years, Jepsen’s pastor says, some $4,000 has been raised in that manner.

Good ideas tend to take on a life of their own, and Jepsen said he’s hoping to put out a 2007 calendar next year that will be geared more toward the general public.

“I’d like to take this to the community,” he said. Jepsen estimated that such a calendar, done properly, could raise several thousand dollars for the food pantry next year.

As for this year, Jepsen says he still has “20 to 25 calendars” available. He can be reached at the Oak Park Police Department on weekdays, at 383-3800.

Donations of money can be sent to the OPRF Food Pantry at P.O. Box 3365, Oak Park, IL 60303. Donations of food can be delivered during regular distribution hours on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, or on second and fourth Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Special arrangements outside those times must be arranged by calling Kathy Russell at the pantry food line, 708-386-1324.

Foods especially needed at this time are: canned beef stew or meat balls, canned fruit, pasta sauce, powdered milk, cereal, and macaroni and cheese.

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