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Hunger Beat

Elk Grove Township pantry expands just in time to meet growing need

Kailee Tomasic, manager of the Elk Grove Township food pantry, can’t imagine trying to serve their current 800 guests a month from the space they inhabited just three years ago. It was a mere 375 square feet.

“Our old pantry was as big as our current walk-in freezer,” Tomasic said. Their current facility is 3,640 square feet, nearly ten times larger than their previous location. Their move, part of the relocation of all Elk Grove Township offices, came just in time to help them respond to a tidal wave of need.

Tomasic started with the food pantry in January 2020, the new facility opened the following month, and COVID-19 shut the community down the month after. Suddenly community members started coming to the pantry in droves, driven by the financial strain caused by the pandemic, rising inflation and elevated food prices.

a woman stands in a food pantry smiling at the camera

Kailee Tomasic, manager of the Elk Grove Township food pantry. (photos by Taylor Glascock for the Food Depository)

During 2020, the food pantry experienced a 40 percent increase in the number of guests coming to them for food, rising from an average of 230 families a month in 2019 to 326 families per month in 2020.

Same Food, Higher Bill

By the fall of 2022, the pantry was serving more than 500 guests a month. In the past few months, that’s risen to more than 800.

“I believe it is a mix of inflation, high food prices, utilities, and property taxes,” Tomasic said of the spike in numbers. “At the grocery store, they’re getting the same amount of food at twice what they used to pay.” This is especially difficult for retirees on fixed incomes, which accounts for a third of the pantry’s guests.

two women stand at their car with a grocery cart

Laura and her mom, Delores

Laura, a 49-year-old mother of two, has frequented the pantry for the past year and a half, often with her 84-year-old mother, Delores. They all live together, a household of five when you add in Delores’ husband. They appreciate the extra food available at the pantry.

Laura works full-time but still struggles to provide for her children. Her parents have a fixed income. Referencing inflation and the rising food prices, Laura said, “It’s horrible. I buy the minimum at Jewel and it’s still $200. This pantry has helped a lot. I can get canned goods and staple items.”

Providing Choice and Selection

The pantry’s larger location has allowed for a client-choice set-up, where guests are able to “shop” for the items they want.

“Our clients are absolutely over-the-moon ecstatic with our transition from prepackaged dry goods to a full-on store for shopping with fresh goods,” Tomasic said.

To avoid long lines, pantry guests make an appointment to visit, and each client is given a food card to streamline check-in.

Tomasic remains vigilant to keep their ample shelves stocked to meet the ever-increasing need in the community. In addition to the pantry’s partnership with the Food Depository, she also collects food from several local grocery stores and restaurants.

The rising number of guests has also prompted the pantry to add distribution days to their weekly schedule. They now serve pantry guests four days a week.

two women shop at a food pantry

Mireya, in the grey shirt, shops for groceries for her family of six. 

Mireya, a mother of four, has been coming to the pantry for two months. While her husband works, she stays home with their youngest child, who has special needs. Mireya says inflation has made it difficult to afford enough food for her large family.

She especially appreciates the personal hygiene items, like toilet paper, and the staple foods she receives at the pantry. “My kids always ask for milk and cereal,” she said. Thanks to the pantry, she’s able to provide these favorite foods. Tomasic credits the Food Depository for that selection.

“Our partnership means everything to me and my clients,” Tomasic said.

“Without it, my clients would not be able to get fresh produce, dairy, and very rarely would have meat. And the pantry would not be as well stocked as it is. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you so much for everything that you are able to provide.”

When you support the Food Depository, you ensure our partner pantries are well stocked and our neighbors have the food they need to thrive.

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