The still-faltering economy is adding unwanted stress to low-income families as they prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2011. So as the holidays approach, food pantries across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are asking for assistance from the public to aid those who will come to them for help.
"The economy is definitely affecting the pantries in this area," said Janet Nelson, supervisor of Holy Family Food Pantry in Springfield. "At Holy Family, we're struggling to keep the basics that we need. I'm talking about things like peanut butter, jelly, canned goods, and boxes of macaroni and cheese.
"This year I've noticed we've even been low on canned fruit," Nelson said. "Luckily the farmers have been good about bringing in fresh fruit and vegetables, but now that it is fall, they won't have those available."
“St John’s Breadline will serve an estimated 900 individuals a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Nelson. “Meanwhile the Food Pantry is planning on serving 450 families for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we need both turkeys and hams.”
With the high price of fuel and food the last several years, Nelson said more working families are finding it difficult to make ends meet. "We've really gotten a lot of new families this year and we're seeing a lot more working families — families where two parents are working and they still can't make ends meet."
"We have more people coming in for help all the time," said Sister Carol Beckermann, OSF, director of Catholic Charities in Effingham. "Last week we had 100 families come for help in one day. We're seeing families that are larger (as they sometimes have grown children or grandchildren move back home), new people we've never seen before, and people that we served before who haven't been in lately but all of the sudden they are coming back."
At Thanksgiving, Sister Carol said the local firefighters collect money, give those funds to Catholic Charities to choose the food, and then the firefighters help put together food baskets. "The firemen fix baskets for the larger families," she said. "This year we have an individual who has been soliciting donations from people to help out Catholic Charities. He is going to help provide for the smaller families.
"You know, we see a lot of people that are termed 'working poor,'" Sister Carol said. "There are, of course, people who are unable to find jobs, but there are others who are working two or three jobs. They are truly working and trying to make it, but they just can't. You know, gas prices go up and down but once food prices go up, those prices stay up."
At Christmas, Effingham Catholic Charities in Illinois will collaborate with another faith-based organization, providing clothing and food for families in need, Sister Carol said.
"We know that it's hard for people to ask for help," said Marie Rademacher, director of Decatur Catholic Charities, noting that their office will be giving out baskets of food for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. "We just had the community food drive and that helped tremendously, but overall we have a lot of new families coming in for food. We've had a 6 or 7 percent increase lately."
Although Nelson has a great number of contributors who fill Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets each year, she is still worried about the holidays this year. "We are planning on feeding 450 families for each holiday and like I said, we're really struggling," she said. "It seems like the shelves just aren't where they need to be at this point. It worries me."
Nelson recommends that people, no matter where they reside in the diocese, donate what they can this holiday season to their local Catholic Charities or public food bank, either through their parishes, schools, a community food drive, place of employment, or individually.
"I think people are really scared in this (economic) situation, where they can't plan ahead for the holidays," Nelson said. "Really, the holidays are the only time that some people ask for help."
Printed with permission from Catholic Times, newspaper for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.