The Niles Township Food Pantry is bracing for what it expects will be a record number of people in need coming through its doors this month.
“It will be off the charts,” Director Cynthia Carranza said of what she anticipates seeing between now and the end of the year as struggling residents stock up on food for everyday meals as well as for the holidays. "I can't even imagine what it will be."
As the pantry readied itself to bag Thanksgiving food with the help of volunteers last week, Carranza talked about the unprecedented need she’s seeing in the community. As she spoke, her phone rang non-stop with people asking what would be available for Thanksgiving and needing reassurance that their Thanksgiving food wouldn’t count against their regular number of monthly pick-ups.
Carranza is no doubt not alone in what she’s seeing in Niles Township. The national non-profit Feeding America estimates that 48 percent of all clients served at food pantries live in suburban and rural areas. And, according to the Food Research Action Center, nearly 1 in 4 families with children is experiencing hunger.
"It will be off the charts. ... I can't even imagine what it will be."
Last November, the food pantry served 1,769 households, which accounted for 4,214 individuals, Carranza said. In the first 10 days of this month, it served 935 households. This comes after a record-breaking October, during which the pantry served 1,353 households, which was the most ever in a non-holiday month.
Another challenge right now, Carranza said, is that she’s seeing more food drives than ever before, which are coming at the expense of monetary donations.
Food drives are “a wonderful bonus” and much appreciated, she said, but she can’t rely on them to stock the pantry’s shelves and freezers each day. Monetary donations allow her to buy food in bulk at significant discounts.
The increase in food drives is happening, she believes, because, “people are afraid to let go of their money. … They’re saying, ‘We still want to help you. We still care and we’ll help you this way.’”
She said she feels supported by the Township, and that Lee Tamraz, Niles Township Supervisor, has assured her that the township understands the need and will find a way to keep feeding people.