Every year, Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein launches the Feinstein Challenge, an annual campaign geared toward encouraging local communities toward greater involvement with their food pantries. A dedicated drive is held in March and April, and once all the cans, boxes and checks are counted, Feinstein divides $1 million proportionately among participating agencies, according to the totals each achieved during its drive.

In order to reach the maximum number of local families, the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry turned to area schools, asking them to “help the pantry’s light shine brighter and stronger for the many people who seek emergency food.” Each school took to the task enthusiastically, with Girl Scout troops, student councils and even a track and field team leading the efforts. And not surprisingly, the schools really came through, helping the food pantry collect nearly 22,000 food items. The lead schools were Oak Park’s Fenwick High School, with 1,920 items, and River Forest’s Willard Elementary, with 2,369.

Willard’s final count would have been impressive regardless, but one family, the Feracotas, gave it a significant bump when they decided to turn Gary Feracota’s 50th birthday party into a food drive ¡ª gathering some 1,000 food items in the process. Interestingly, the Fercotas had never been particularly involved with the food pantry in the past, beyond contributing to the occasional drive. “We just wanted to have a party,” says Gary’s wife, Patti, “and we requested that people not bring gifts ¡­ but rather 10 food items, and we were able to make that happen. I think that everyone really wants to do good, and if you just give them a channel, they just really rise to the occasion.”

We are grateful to the Feracotas, but the OPRF Food Pantry is equally grateful to every school kid, mom, dad, teacher and principal who brought in a can, a bag or a box. All donations from schools, congregations, groups and individuals totaled 21,618 items! This represents a 45 percent increase from last year’s Feinstein food drive.

The pantry works to meet the most basic needs of our neighbors ¡ª and we couldn’t do it if we didn’t have the community behind us every step of the way.

The next way to get involved in helping the pantry is to join or donate to the Pantry’s Hunger Walk team! See www.oprffoodpantry.org.

Kathy Russell
Executive director, Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry

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