At 8 a.m. on a weekday morning, a fresh pot of coffee brews in the kitchen of the .
Erik Miller, a Morton Grove firefighter of eight years, thumbs through a stack of newspapers on the round kitchen table with Jimmy Hosfield, who has been with the station for 24 years.
Miller started a shift one hour earlier and has another 23 hours before his work day ends. The phone rings, and he answers a call about the annual Firefighter's Association of Morton Grove Holiday Food Drive, which he is organizing for the second year in a row.
"It is something that I wanted to do as a way we can help people," Miller said. "It is, honestly, the way it's been done for 20 years."
Miller said food donations are apace with recent years' levels, but monetary donations are "a little behind."
During the holiday season, the local firefighter's association plants 10 food barrels in seven locations, in which people deposit food donations.
Nearly every day the barrels are checked, and once the barrels are filled to capacity, firefighters relocate the food to a central docking station at in Morton Grove.
"We store the food in the Boy Scout Room of the church, and then on Dec. 24 people come and pick up larger bushels of food in IKEA bags," Miller said. "We basically have a roster of families, and put together the packages according to the family's specific needs."
Miller said that each family receives about 200 pounds of non-perishable food items, as well as perishable food items that the firefighters buy at Dominick's on Dec. 23.
Families with children also receive wrapped gifts. Teenagers usually get gift cards, while younger children discover age-appropriate toys under their Christmas trees.
A growing need in town
Miller said he recognizes the need for the food donations in town, especially as demands on the Niles Township Food Pantry have spiked this year. For more, read Patch's coverage on the food pantry .
"We are the only ones in town to run a local food drive like this," said Miller, who estimates about 50 family food and gift baskets will be produced this year. Last year 46 families received donated baskets, and the food drive raised $3,600.
Although the firefighter's association also accepts monetary donations at the local department, whatever costs not covered by donations are taken directly from the firefighter's association funds.
Fellow firefighter Hosfield recounted a recent story when a woman dropped off $100 in cash anonymously for the food drive.
"You think about people dropping off money like that, just because they want to help out, and it sticks with you," he said.
Several local organizations also participate in the effort, including St. Martha Church, Jerusalem Lutheran Church and the Morton Grove Family Moose Center.
Hosfield said the event is worth all the effort.
"It's a lot of work, and a ton of time, especially for Erik as the organizer," Hosfield said. "But you should see how much food they are getting, it is probably enough to last these families an entire week."
How to chip in
The food drive will continue until Friday at seven Morton Grove locations with food barrels:
- Dominick's on Dempster Street
- Village Hall
- Civic Center/American Legion
- Morton Grove Fire Department, Station Four
- Bell and Gossett
- Moose Lodge
- Morton Grove Park District
- Jerusalem Lutheran Church
Cash donations also are accepted at the Morton Grove Fire Department.
What to watch out For
Miller said the biggest problem with food donations often is the expiration date.
"I'd love to keep track of what we end up having to throw out, like half-eaten loaves of bread or cans of food that are 10 years past their expiration date," he said.
When donating food, the drive organizers ask that people take care to prevent food waste with perishable and expired food items.