Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry cuts free turkeys, hams

Nonprofit says it couldn't keep up with increasing demand


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Faced with surging demand and costs, the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry will no longer be handing out free hams and turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The past three years, lines have snaked around the block at First United Church of Oak Park, as pantry clients showed up in droves for the main dish of their holidays. The food pantry purchased about 800 hams and turkeys the first year, but they'd have to buy twice as many in 2011 to satisfy the need.

Kathy Russell, executive director of the food pantry, said they spent $16,000 last year on the program, and would need to spend even more this year.

"There's no way we're going to be able to buy 1,600 turkeys. That would be way outrageous," she said. "Plus, we need to focus on feeding all these people on a regular basis because they're coming to us for their daily sustenance."

Since they only had enough turkeys to serve half their clients, last year the pantry had to hold a lottery a month or so before Thanksgiving, according to Michele Zurakowski, director of operations. Clients would draw a slip of paper out of a box, and if it had a picture of a turkey on it, they'd take home a bird.

The program caused tons of logistical problems, too, requiring 100 volunteers, police assistance to direct traffic and a little bit of muscle to move around more than 10,000 pounds of meat.

"It's a massive production effort," Zurakowski said.

Subtracting the $16,000 the food pantry spent last year and the $24,000 they spent a couple of years ago on holiday food certificates, they will instead address clients' hunger on a daily basis.

However, the food pantry will include items for holiday dinners in the most recent allotment, such as stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, corn and cranberries.

Russell emphasized that supporters shouldn't rush in to donate turkeys to keep the program alive. Rather, the pantry is seeking monetary donations as they start to ramp up their annual fundraising drive, seeking contributions by the end of December.

The food pantry has much greater buying power than the average consumer, Russell said. A dollar in donations can buy $8 in food from the Chicago Food Depository. Rather than donating one turkey, a similar cash donation would allow the food pantry to feed three families for two weeks, she said.

To make a donation, visit oprffoodpantry.org/donate, or mail a check to 848 Lake St., Oak Park, IL 60301.

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Reader Comments

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Diane Krstulovich from OP  

Posted: November 19th, 2011 5:49 PM

Please note: Even Ghandi would say that any meal enjoyed with love, grace, gratitude and peace would be a thousand times healthier than the healthiest ingredients in a bitter atmosphere of consternation, fear, arrogance or contention. For most, adopting a 'plant strong' diet is a process. Starting anywhere along the spectrum adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains is good. Cutting back on meat and dairy is also good. We are all students. Food panty and staff are THE BEST!


Posted: November 19th, 2011 3:04 PM

I agree, but I don't want to catch any flies! And I love vinegar.

Diane Krstulovich from OP  

Posted: November 19th, 2011 2:56 PM

No matter what your beliefs about food and diet, it is always best to NOT be strident. Especially around the holidays! ("you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar", remember?) Blessed holidays to all!

Dawn from Oak Park  

Posted: November 19th, 2011 2:33 PM

Thanks to the Oak Park Food Pantry and Walk-In Ministry for helping my sister who is on a limited income and has had great financial difficulties lately. It's no fun waiting in line for hours for food. I've been there. You do it out of need, not laziness or to get a freebie. Thanks to the volunteers. Please donate to the Food Pantry - I did. Happy Holidays!


Posted: November 19th, 2011 9:25 AM

I don't see them stepping up and offering to help. If you want homeless people to eat vegan, this is your opportunity! Donate to the OPRF food pantry. Or just sit in the back and fling spitballs. (Are spitballs vegan?)

Vegans Never Miss An Opportunity from OP  

Posted: November 19th, 2011 9:04 AM

Thanks to the OPRF Food Pantry for their continuing service to the community and ability to make tough decisions during these difficult times. Why is it that vegans never miss an opportunity to beat their drum and push their agenda? It makes me (and others as well) just dislike and doubt them. (In other words, please feel free to keep your choices to yourselves)

Diane Krstulovich from OP  

Posted: November 19th, 2011 2:05 AM

ps - 'Forks Over Knives' DVD and cookbook are both available thru the Oak Park and River Forest libraries.

op guy  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 11:17 PM

get a job and buy a turkey - i bet a lot of people woud agrees to give you is turkie if you raked the leeeves. just ax them

God bless the OPRF Food Pantry and it's volunteers!  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 11:06 PM

God bless all of you at the OPRF Food Pantry and this enormous social justice issue that you tackle voluntarily. I am in awe of your goodwill and your good work. It is truly amazing. Thank you all for your compassion and kindness to the people suffering from want unnecessarily in a society where plenty is the norm for so many.


Posted: November 18th, 2011 8:37 PM

Sarge 311 will be outside First United handing out tofurkies to the homeless. No? Oh, I guess s/he's just stingy and small-minded.


Posted: November 18th, 2011 8:32 PM

trader joe's has great minimally processed birds at a fair price. happy thanksgiving!


Posted: November 18th, 2011 6:53 PM

Sarge of what and steakburger - 2 incapable of thinking or compassion louts. Yes, I am happy that slaughtered animals are not going to be served thereby freeing up all that money to provide HEALTHY & more items to the poor instead of just 1 big item. As for Steakburger, if anyone epitomized the term MORON, it is you. And "Sarge" there isn't enough Raid to stop you from being the biggest pest that there is. You have your opinion as do I. You don't like what I say, go listen to glenn beck.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 4:27 PM

SteakBurger from Oak Park, Vegans like Gays just sometimes like to announce what they are at every chance they get. It doesn't make them bad people. It just makes them very annoying. How would it be if everyone went around saying they just finished off eating 2 pounds of meat. A vegan wouldn't want to know that, just like a gay wouldn't want to hear about your manly conquests with the ladies. Just let it be.

Diane Krstulovich from OP  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 3:38 PM

Might be a blessing in disguise: www.forksoverknives.com Happy Thanksgiving!

SteakBurger from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 3:18 PM

Sarge311...Being a vegan, you are a moron. No doubt the lack of following your genetic instincts to eat meat has led to a hardening of your heart, if not your ateries. Go grab a Pastrami sandwich and start thinking clearly.

Sean from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 2:00 PM

While it is unfortunate that there is a budget shortfall, practically speaking, the money can be better spent on things other than hams and turkeys. It's nice to be able to provide premium items for the holidays, and if the money is there, I have no problem with giving them away, but when you have to make a shrinking budget last long, these premium items are obviously the first items to be cut from them list. I'd rather people go without turkeys and hams than food in general.


Posted: November 18th, 2011 1:52 PM

Huge lines were because a lot of people just used it as a convenience and a nice giveaway.

Sarge of what?  

Posted: November 18th, 2011 1:29 PM

What part...the loss of their funding? or the families that can't get a ham or turkey for the holidays? When you rejoice at the sorrow of others for the sake of your own beliefs you just confirm why people on hear are not taking you serious and ignoring you. You might actually be able to get people to consider going vegan if you weren't such an annoying, argumentative pest. I would never become a vegan if I'd turn into a person like you, mean to people for a good cause??? Great job.


Posted: November 18th, 2011 1:15 PM

Being a vegan, I couldn't be happier to hear this.

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