Soaring food prices have hit Illinois pantries hard. Many more people are coming forward for emergency food aid. At the same time, food donations are more difficult to obtain and the costs have quadrupled.
Carrie Schumacher is the director of Willow Creek Care Center in South Barrington. Food providers like Willow Care and people in need of food face the same pressures, she said.
“Our customers’ money is not going as far as last year. It’s harder than ever to spend money to pay bills and put food on the table,” Schumacher told The Center Square.
The food pantry and other services provided by Willow Creek are part of the Willow Creek Community Church ministry. The church started the food pantry 30 years ago when a church member bought a bag of groceries for another church member. The care center has grown over the years into a modern facility that provides clothing, dental and vision care, and a car repair ministry, in addition to food.
Schumacher said pantries across the state are reporting higher numbers of people in need than last year.
Ninety percent of food banks in Illinois report an increase in demand for food.
At Willow Creek Care Center, Schumacher said he saw a 54% increase in the number of people coming in for food this year compared to last year. At the same time, the cost of food has quadrupled.
“Being able to provide the same level of food that we could provide before COVID has been a significant challenge,” Schumacher said.
Each week, Willow Creek Care Center gives 900 families enough food for a week. Customers can get free food from the pantry twice a month. They walk away with food with a retail value of $150 to $250. Through partnerships, sponsorships and corporate donations, Willow Creek is able to source food at great value prices. Willow Creek pays about an eighth of the list price people would pay if they bought the same food at a grocery store.
Most of the food comes from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a group that has been sourcing good quality, nutritious food and supplying it to food pantries and soup kitchens in the area for over 40 years.
In addition to providing food, the food depot has connected Willow Creek with local stores that have food to donate. Willow Creek sends out trucks almost daily to “glean” foods that are nearing the end of their shelf life so they can provide them to the people they serve.
Unfortunately, inflation made the process much more difficult, Schumacher said.
“Their items cost them more, so grocery stores order less food. That means they have less surplus to give us,” she said.
To even remotely provide the types and amounts of food Willow Creek clients need, the care center has had to quadruple the amount of money they spend from their budget.
“We are now buying items such as yogurt, milk, eggs and produce – items that were regularly donated by partners before the pandemic,” Schumacher said.
Guests who come to Willow Creek can’t take home as many of the more expensive items such as meat they’ve received in the past, Schumacher said. Previously, families could choose five to seven meats from the freezer, she said.
“Now we have to limit them to three meat choices,” she said.