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Food Pantry Need Is As Great As Ever This Thanksgiving

Several Evanston food pantries and soup kitchens say they’re serving at least as many, if not more people this year when compared to previous years.

While many Evanston families will be lining up at the grocery store checkout register in the days before Thanksgiving, hundreds more are expected to line up for distributions at local food pantries. 

Hillside Food Pantry executive director Maiya Lueptow predicts that some 300 to 400 people will come to the food pantry at 2727 Crawford Ave. this Wednesday, the only day it’s open this week. 

 “These are people who often work very hard, and they just cannot get a break,” Lueptow says. 

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Hillside is one of several pantries in Evanston that will be distributing food during Thanksgiving week, either as part of their regularly scheduled hours or through special Thanksgiving donations. And despite some uptick in the jobs market, most say that they’re seeing more clients than ever. 

Lueptow says that Hillside distributes food to approximately 2,000 to 2,500 families per month, a number that has steadily grown since the pantry opened in May 2009.  During the first year that Hillside was open, attendance jumped from 20 families per week to nearly 1,900. Since then, the nonprofit doubled the size of its pantry, and just last week, workers poured concrete for a second addition to store more nonperishable goods. 

“By the grace of God, all that time, we have never run out of food,” Lueptow says. “And every day that we distribute, our fridges are full and by the end of the day they’re pretty much empty.” 

Meanwhile, at Vineyard Christian Church, 2495 W. Howard St., food pantry manager Lisa Haskin says numbers are also growing. When it opened in 2005, the food pantry served just three to five families per week. Last November, the food pantry served roughly 170 to 175 families per week, while this November the average number is 210, according to Haskin. 

Last Wednesday, the food pantry saw a record crowd of 230 families, she says.

And on Saturday, some 506 people showed up to take home Thanksgiving bags including fixings for a whole Thanksgiving dinner with a choice of turkey or ham. 

At the Salvation Army food pantry, 1403 Sherman Ave., Jean Sapper says demand is also high.

“The need is just as great, but our budget is constrained, so we’ll be serving less people this year,” she says. The food pantry hosted a sit-down luncheon for seniors on Saturday, and will be distributing food on its regular schedule this week.

The Soup at Six soup kitchen, held at Hemenway United Methodist Church, 933 Chicago Ave., served a Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday night. On Monday, volunteer Julie Cowan predicted that at least 100 people would show up. 

“Thanksgiving’s usually busy,” Cowan says. “A lot of what makes a soup kitchen busy is the weather, because people walk there, and since it’s expected to be nice weather, I expect it’s going to be busy.” 

Evanston soup kitchens offer meals on a rotating schedule, with each soup kitchen taking a different night of the week.  Cowan says the clients at Soup at Six are a mixture of people who are homeless, individuals with mental disabilities and seniors on a fixed income looking for company. 

“People need a soup kitchen who you wouldn’t expect,” she adds.

Plenty of local corporations and groups planned special donations for this Thanksgiving, including Jewel Osco, which is distributing 55 turkey dinners through Hillside Food Pantry. The Evanston Firefighters Association Local 742 will also provide 12 Thanksgiving dinner baskets through Family Focus, as it has for the past 11 years. 

Firefighter Rob Byrne says the group uses union funds to shop for turkeys, potatoes, carrots, cranberry sauce and anything else a family might need to make a Thanksgiving dinner. On Tuesday, firefighters gathered at the Central Street station to put the baskets together, then drove them over to Family Focus.

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