MURPHYSBORO — Thus far this year, the Murphysboro Food Pantry has served almost 500 more individuals than it did at the same time last year, with as many of those coming from Carbondale as from Murphysboro.
Because of that increase in service from Carbondale, the food pantry's outgoing director, Jane Williams, wants to ask Carbondale-area residents and businesses to consider donating to the pantry, particularly as the year ends.
Not that Williams is trying to cause an issue with any other local food pantries.
When she wrote on one of the organization's social media accounts that her nonprofit had given as much food to residents in Carbondale as to Murphysboro and was looking for more donations from that city, she said someone countered her post by posting inaccurate information.
She said she's not interested in engaging in a debate about which food pantry serves more local people or why, but that she was only interested in trying to get those considering or looking to make an end-of-year donation.
"It was not meant to imply that one pantry is doing a better job or not or one is doing a worse job, it was just (we wanted to draw attention to the need we have)," Williams said.
Murphysboro Food Pantry staff believe they will come close to serving, if not exceeding, the 37,500 individuals they provided food to this past year. Once every 30 days, on average, a family of four can get $120 to $150 worth of free food from the pantry.
"That translates into mega-tons of food," she said.
"So we're holding steady because I really do believe for Jackson County, that we're serving just about everybody that knows about us and can use us," Williams said.
The food pantry runs on a $110,000 budget, the vast majority of which goes to purchasing food to give to those in need, Williams said.
Early afternoon on Tuesday, the food pantry's new director, Megan Austin, was making calls to inform patrons who are 60 years and older of their selection for additional food through what staff call the Senior Box Program. Austin succeeds Williams, who is leaving the pantry after nearly 13 years of volunteering to care for her mother.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Murphysboro Food Pantry, located at 906 N. 14th St., is empty, closed for the day, having just received a shipment of food from the St. Louis Area Food Bank. That is the main source from which the Murphysboro Food Pantry buys the food it gives away.
The main section of the Murphysboro Food Pantry is like a small grocery store and waiting room, where patrons take a number for service, then sign in to receive the food. When their number is called, they can select a pre-packed box of food and then take a shopping cart to finish picking up other items they may need or want, such as rice, beans, raisins, breads or the fresh produce — milk, juices, vegetables, for instance — from the pantry's new produce cooler. Patrons can also choose from two to three choices of meat, which are stored in the pantry's new $50,000 commercial walk-in freezer, which was secured with grant money.
Surplus food waiting to be put in the main shopping area is stored in the pantry's warehouse, where there are at least two freezers and one stainless steel industrial type freezer, also purchased with a grant, Williams said.
Williams said the bulk of her time was spent fundraising and otherwise seeking donations to buy food for those who visit the pantry. The Murphysboro Food Pantry was incorporated in February 2004; donations are tax-deductible to the 501(c)3 organization.
Each year, Williams said her goal has been to be able to offer more food to the families and individuals seeking it.
The food pantry is open 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and serves those who meet federally established income guidelines.
In addition to cash donations, pantry staff are also seeking volunteers to help manage the facility and keep costs low.