On Giving Tuesday Beyond Hunger, 848 Lake St., Oak Park, tripled their $25,000 goal by utilizing multiple giving outlets to maximize donations. And now, the organization is already in the midst of a winter fundraising appeal.

“We are really preparing for an avalanche of need,” said Sarah Abboreno Corbin, communications manager.

Feeding America predicts more than 50 million people will experience food insecurity in 2020 representing an increase of 15 million from 2019 numbers. Following the Great Recession in 2008 it took years for the economy to recover and longer for Beyond Hunger to see a decrease in need. Corbin indicates the pantry is bracing for food insecurity well beyond the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Last spring numbers at Beyond Hunger increased considerably in response to COVID-19 and the organization’s home delivery program for seniors has tripled in size. Staff saw need decrease over the summer as enhanced SNAP benefits and stimulus checks eased some of the financial strain caused by the pandemic. With the arrival of winter, however, need and numbers are on the rise once again. 

Pantry pop-ups hosted by the Greater Chicago Food Depository temporarily took some pressure off Beyond Hunger during warmer months, but those efforts have since stopped driving more clients to the Oak Park pantry. Previous benefits have expired, and a new federal aid package is not moving along, forcing families to make the difficult decision between paying their bills or buying groceries.

“As someone who has experienced food insecurity firsthand, I know how hard it can be to embrace the resources that are available,” said Corbin. “People wait and tap out all their options before coming to the pantry. We are seeing people reach that point now.”

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Beyond Hunger served 308 households, representing 870 individuals, in just three hours. These numbers represent more volume than pantry staff can remember in recent history. 

Thanks to a generous private donor and a new drop freezer trailer placed in the parking lot of First United Church of Oak Park, pantry manager Ricardo Garcia, realized Beyond Hunger had the capability to give every family visiting the pantry in November a turkey for their Thanksgiving table.

“We did not tell people they would be receiving a turkey with their box of food,” said Corbin. “You wouldn’t think a turkey could make people cry, but it did. Many people had decided they would have to go without a holiday meal this year, so it was a wonderful surprise.”

As need continues to increase, staff and volunteers at Beyond Hunger want people in the community to know the pantry is there for people who are hungry. It is a simple statement, but Corbin, stresses the importance of stripping away the stigma often associated with utilizing a food pantry.

 “The best thing community members can do to support Beyond Hunger is to encourage people not to wait to use this resource. We make a point to serve people with dignity and we will always be here,” said Corbin.

In addition to serving as advocates for pantry use, Beyond Hunger could use several specific canned items that have been difficult to source during the pandemic. Requested items include canned pinto beans, pineapple, chicken soup, and corn. Donations of peanut butter and jelly are also needed.

Food donations can be brought to the lower level receiving window in the First United parking lot behind the church, at 848 Lake St., on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

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