Stocking up: Thanks to volunteers and community donors, the Forest Park Food Pantry works to meet increasing demand from those in need.File 2010

At Christmastime three years ago, Rose Krogh read a newspaper report about how the food shortage at the Forest Park Food Pantry had hit the opposite of critical mass. The demand for emergency food boxes to feed local individuals, families and seniors, meanwhile, was growing. Help was needed now.

Taking that news as a call to action, she recruited two other seniors, Marie Beckmann and Jan Jones, neighbors and friends who, like her, wanted to do something about it. “That December [2009], we printed up some letters, put them on shopping bags, and put them on 250 household doors, asking for food and telling them when we would pick it up,” recalls Rose who, with Marie and Jan, were recently recognized for their efforts at the Celebrating Seniors Coalition’s “60 over 60” event in Oak Park.

Since their inaugural salvo was extremely successful, the trio quickly engineered a plan to continue year-round. To do so, the retirees used a grid system and divided Forest Park into quadrants, figuring that over the course of the year, every household would be solicited on behalf of the food pantry.

“What we have created is a continuous community food drive,” Marie said. “We always try to make it as easy as possible for the residents so that they don’t have to do a lot of legwork. So, we put the bag with the letter on a door knob on a Thursday, stating that the pantry is in need of food, nonperishable and personal items, and that we will be back on Monday before 9 a.m. Then we walk around and pick it up, and deliver it to the Community Center.”

Every can counts

With a success rate of 30-40 percent, this “sisterhood of angels,” as they’re sometimes called, is always amazed by the generosity of Forest Park residents.

“It’s a good-sized shopping bag, and there are some people who are so generous, they put out additional shopping bags filled with food,” Rose adds.

Last year, to rev up their return on their volunteer investment, Marie began reaching out to local condo associations in town. Many of them now put food collection boxes in their common areas in November and December, she says.

For some time now, Schauer’s Hardware and Ed’s Way have been collecting food for the pantry, she adds, as have numerous churches, local businesses and community groups.

Every month, adds Karen Dylewski, director of the Howard Mohr Community Center, Jackson and Desplaines, where they are located, the pantry distributes 60-70 boxes of food, which is an increase over previous years. In August, she says, when the pantry shelves unexpectedly emptied, she deployed Rose, Marie and Jan, and, as always, they delivered.

“They are unbelievable. They lug them in here,” marvels Dylewski. “Our pantry was bare, and now there’s food in there.”

Through the holiday season, says Richard Barger, a veteran volunteer at the pantry, they need even more donations of nonperishable and personal items, plus all the fixings for a festive meal — canned sweet potatoes, beans, boxes of mashed potatoes and dressing, frozen turkeys, fresh produce, pies … the works.

The day prior to Thanksgiving and Christmas, they also need drivers to deliver them, he adds.

“In doing this, the three of us truly realized what Karen, Richard and everyone at the Community Center does on a quiet basis for so many people in Forest Park,” Marie says. “We believe we are all here to help one another, and, basically, that is what the three of us are trying to do.”

Howard Mohr Community Center

Complete address: 7640 Jackson Blvd. Forest Park, IL 60130

General office number: 708-771-7737

Email: kdylewski@forestpark.net

Website: www.forestpark.net

Leadership contact name & title: Karen Dylewski, director

Statement of purpose: To serve the people in our community who are struggling. To provide a confidential environment that respects an individual’s privacy and acknowledges how difficult it is to ask for assistance. To provide a basis for understanding that the people who use the pantry could be our neighbors and friends who are struggling without our knowledge.

How long have you been in existence? The Forest Park Food Pantry has been in existence for about 30 years.

Ways volunteers can help: Food drives, volunteers during the holidays to deliver holiday dinners and gifts to the less fortunate.

To volunteer, call: 708-771-7737

Useful donations other than money: Any non-perishable items. We now have a walk-in cooler and take donations of eggs, vegetables, bread, etc.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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