Last year, the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry brought 74 participants to the annual Greater Chicago Food Depository’s annual Hunger Walk event. Together, those participants pulled in roughly $17,000 in donations, more than any other participating team.
With the number of hungry mouths to feed increasing faster than most food banks can keep up with, the OP-RF Food Pantry is still hoping for even a fraction of that success this year.
“We’re trying to put out this push right now, for $36 [donations],” said Kathy Russell, executive director of the food pantry. It’s a modest sum to ask of individuals in Oak Park and River Forest, she said. Yet it has the potential to feed dozens, even hundreds of mouths, when given to the food pantry.
“We don’t have any upfront costs for this,” said Russell, of the Hunger Walk. One hundred per cent of the money donated goes toward buying food to fill the pantry shelves. With the deep discounts provided to the Chicago food depository, every $36 stands to bring in a whole lot more than it would if spent directly at a market like Jewel Osco or Whole Foods.
“Our buying power at the food depository is so great,” Russell said. One dollar translates to about $11 in food there, which means a $36 donation will bring in close to $400 worth of food. That’s important to the local food pantry because the number of people they supply has grown 45 percent since last year.
“If it wasn’t for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, we’d be turning people away,” said Bob Haisman, a pantry volunteer. They keep the local pantry stocked and running with the help of food pantry staff, volunteers, and donors.
Haisman is signed on to participate in the Hunger Walk for his second year in a row, and he’s raised about $1,000 thus far, this time around. Last year, he said, it was over $2000.
“I didn’t know quite what to expect,” he said of his first walk experience. “There were a ton of people out there.”
Having just had knee replacement surgery on both legs, Haisman did the walk without the permission of his doctor. “He wasn’t happy,” Haisman joked. But he felt the event was too important to miss.
“Times are tough,” Haisman said. “These aren’t people scamming the system. They need help.”
Donations are good, Russell said, but they’re not matching the 45-percent increase in clients this year.
“Even though people are very, very generous, we can’t raise enough money to sustain that kind of growth, Haisman said.
The Hunger Walk takes place on Saturday, starting on the south lawn of Soldier Field, but Russell said the food pantry is still far from their $20,000 fundraising goal.
“I think $36 is not a great amount to ask of someone. And when you multiply it, it’s really, really good,” she said.
The other option is for locals to sign on to participate in the walk themselves.
“It’s very festive,” Russell said of the event. Last year the skies were sunny for the 5K event. But even without sun, the walk is invigorating. “You feel very energized by all the people who have come to support ending hunger,” Russell said.
And for every walker signed up, the Greater Chicago Food Depository will give the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry $15.
“That feeds three people,” Russell said. “It costs us about $5.41 to feed someone here at the food pantry.”
Participants can visit the food pantry website at oprffoodpantry.org to sign up for the walk, to view personal fundraising pages set up by walkers, and to make a donation.
“If there’s anybody who could find his way to give an extra $10, we sure could use it,” Haisman said. “It really would be helpful.”