Up and down the streets of their neighborhood, Rose Krogh and Marie Beckman hung small, brown paper shopping bags on door handles and porches. Each came with a little note asking that the recipient buy a few extra items at the grocery store. Nothing extravagant, just an extra box of this or another can of that.
On Monday, Krogh and Beckman retrieved the bags – all 296 of them – and handed the goods over to the Forest Park Food Pantry.
“I can tell you there are a lot of steps,” Krogh joked of her neighbors’ porches.
With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays so close, the two women said it was an easy decision to organize a food drive. In September, Krogh read a Review story on the local pantry run by Karen Dylewski, director of the Howard Mohr Community Center, and said she was struck by the new demands the recession had brought to bear. In the last year, Dylewski’s grocery bills to stock the pantry have doubled while donations are down to a trickle.
So, Krogh and Beckman got moving. In addition to collecting the grocery bags from their neighbors, the women worked with almost a dozen local organizations to set out boxes for more donations. All told, they delivered more than 1,800 items to the food pantry.
“There’s a need, we have the time and there’s generous people out there,” Krogh said.
According to Dylewski, Krogh and Beckman are among a slew of new donors helping to support the pantry, many of whom were moved to action by Dylewski’s pleas.
Kristine Lazzara also read of Dylewski’s fear that needy Forest Park residents would be turned away during the holidays, and organized a food drive at her office in Skokie. Her company, Reznick Group Chicago, has a committee of employees who look for charitable programs in the area that could use some support.
“We didn’t set a specific dollar amount, but Kristine has a Chevy Avalanche truck and we decided to try and fill that with canned goods and other staples,” Matt Heikes, a coworker of Lazzara’s and chairman of the company’s Community Involvement Group, said.
As a mother and someone who has also struggled to find work, Lazzara said Dylewski’s concerns “hit home.” On Friday, with a full truck, Lazzara delivered more than 20 boxes of food to the pantry.
“We’ve all had rough times,” Lazzara said. “Start in your own backyard.”
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Dylewski and her staff at the community center will spend about $6,000 providing holiday meals to local families. Each box that’s delivered during this annual push includes a turkey and all the trimmings. An estimated 140 boxes will be delivered this morning, just in time for Thanksgiving, she said. That figure is up dramatically from the 80 boxes that were typically distributed prior to the recession.
The outpouring of support lately has been remarkable, said Dylewski, and should get the pantry through Thanksgiving. In September, Dylewski’s eyes were brimming with tears when she thought of the need that might go unmet. Now, she’s bubbling over with stories of generosity.
In addition to the efforts of Krogh, Beckman and Lazzara, others who’ve never donated are stepping up. One woman quietly dropped off a check for $623 and left it on Dylewski’s desk. The odd amount has led her to believe that it was the sum of the donor’s paycheck.
Another woman who for two years received support during the holidays came in with a check for $100. When Dylewski knew her as a beneficiary of the pantry, the woman was out of work and struggling to provide for her twins. She has since moved, found work and married – and wants to help.
“I love it,” Dylewski said. “Every time I write a thank you note it means I have something in the till or in the pantry.”
Come Christmas though, her staff needs to do it all over again, and provide gifts where they can.
“I don’t want it to end,” Dylewski said. “What’s going on right now is good, but it can’t stop just because the holidays end. The economy is still in the toilet and we still run a food pantry.”
One of the locations in Forest Park where Beckman and Krogh set up a collection site is Ed’s Way, a family-owned grocer on the south side of town. Of the nearly 600 food items collected around town, 40 percent have come from the small store, they said. When Krogh and Beckman returned to the store Monday to pick up the overflowing boxes for a fourth time, they expected it to be their last trip. But store owner Michael Nutley insisted the collection continue through Christmas. According to Nutley, it is the first time in 20 years the store has been part of a food drive like this. No one ever asked, he said.
“Most of all this has been from the customers in Forest Park,” Nutley said. “I would say 99 percent of it.”