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Hunger Beat

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: Working full-time, still struggling to eat

Laura Grabfelder and her daughter Mackenzie receive food from Operation Blessing Food Pantry once per month.
Four-year-old Mackenzie skipped up to the front door of the Operation Blessing Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in south suburban Crestwood, on a sunny Thursday morning. In one hand, she held her mother’s pointer finger, and with the other she carried a plastic bag full of fluffy dolls.

“Here you go!” she grinned, emphatically handing the bag to a pantry volunteer, eager to make her donation. Today, Mackenzie is at the pantry to drop off the dolls. Yesterday, she was at the pantry with her mother, Laura Grabfelder, to get food.

Laura has been coming to the pantry once a month for more than a year. She has a full-time job at an insurance company, but still has trouble supporting herself and Mackenzie.

“I barely make enough to pay rent or pay for much else let alone food,” Laura said. “Getting food from the pantry is a big help.”

Laura recently got a 50 cent per hour raise at work, which equates to approximately $80 more per month for the family. Because of the raise, Laura’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits dropped from $200 per month to only $27 per month.

“It’s tough to get by, even with the job,” she said. “In fact, after this, we’ll be stopping at a few thrift stores to get clothes for Mackenzie, because she’s going into preschool this year.”

The pantry serves more than 1,000 people per month.

“There’s always a need in this community,” said pantry assistant John Whithall. “Some people that come here have degrees, but can’t find jobs. There’s just nothing available.”

With support from the Food Depository, Operation Blessing served 50,000 people last year. While addressing a massive need in the community, they never lose sight of small donations like Mackenzie’s.

After dropping off the dolls, John handed Mackenzie some peanut butter crackers, which she happily grabbed. She took a bite and her blue eyes lit up.

“This is the first time she’s had peanut butter,” Laura said. “That’s why this pantry means so much to us.”

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