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Southern Illinois food pantries see increased requests due to COVID-19

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Feeding people

Jaretzy (left) and Edwin Garcia help their mother by choosing some bread while picking up food from the Victory Dream Center food pantry on April 15 in Carbondale. Victory Dream Center received a grant through the SIH COVID-19 Relief Fund to pay for equipment to provide outdoor food distribution.

Across Southern Illinois, organizations that feed the hungry are seeing an increase in requests for help.

Herrin House of Hope, a ministry of the Herrin Ministerial Alliance, is serving meals to those in need at a rate of 400% of their normal levels, according to a news release. The Herrin House of Hope, as of April 13, had surpassed 10,000 meals in its COVID-19 relief efforts. This is a 400% increase over their normal weekly meal rate for three straight weeks. Last week they served a record 2,818 meals.

They are now providing up to two meals per day per household member. Meals are available Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. House of Hope plans to continue this service as long as funding and volunteers can sustain it.

J.R. Russell, executive director of Marion Ministerial Alliance, said their soup kitchen has tripled in attendance for their noon meal. The group is giving out meals to-go to comply with the Illinois governor’s stay-at-home order. Even the packaging puts greater strain on the soup kitchen’s resources. It is more expensive to serve meals to-go than to eat on site.

“The food pantry numbers have not increased dramatically, but we are seeing a different clientele,” Russell said. “The people we are seeing are not the ones we usually see.”

Doug Cherry, senior pastor of Victory Dream Center, said requests for the church’s food pantry have been both up and down.

“Our team on Sunday packed boxes for 150 families and ended up giving out a little less than 100 boxes,” Cherry said.

Requests for food were up initially. He thinks the extra money added to LINK cards may have made a difference on Sunday.

Cherry is concerned that some people who need help don’t know where to turn for necessities like food.

“One of he challenges of this population group is they are not used to being in need and not sure where to go to get help,” Cherry said.

Victory Dream Center just received a delivery of food, enough to last two weeks. They also receive food from nine stores in Carbondale and Marion.

“We have a really nice flow of produce, too,” Cherry said.

The church has a system to get food to people without being in direct contact. Clients line up along the breezeway on the east side of the church. The sidewalk is marked in 6-foot increments to help people stay safe. Food is then passed out the door.

“One thing we want to do is to reach out to the folks who aren’t used to coming to a food pantry,” Cherry said.

Megan Austin, director of Murphysboro Food Pantry, said the pantry has seen an increase.

“We saw an increase in March compared to last year of 14%. We were up 6% compared to last month,” Austin said.

She expects to see greater need in April, May and June, given the situation with the economy. She has thought about what will happen in coming months, but says she just has no idea.

“Murphysboro has a lot of boutiques. You just hope small business owners get some relief. You hope it’s enough. You hope they reopen and bring staff back,” Austin said.

She has seen some good in this situation, especially with people picking up food for friends and neighbors who cannot get out because of the risk of catching COVID-19.

All the groups are accepting donations to help the increased need, as are other pantries across the region. They will accept food, but say monetary donations are better because they can order food at a reduced rate from their suppliers.

For more information or to make a donation, contact the one of the organizations below:

Marion Ministerial Alliance: 103 E Calvert St., Marion, 618-993-8419 or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/MarionMinisterialAlliance.

Victory Dream Center: 607 E. College St., Carbondale, 618-351-8018; victorydreamcenter.org.

Murphysboro Food Pantry: 906 N. 14th St., Murphysboro, 618-684-8258 or visit them on Facebook by searching Murphysboro Food Pantry on facebook.com.

Herrin House of Hope: 112 N.14th St., Herrin; www.herrinhouseofhope.org

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