Like many of the needy people it strives to help, the Howard Mohr Community Center’s food pantry has recently fallen on hard times. Inventory needs a serious boost if workers at the community center are going to be able to provide food and other products to needy residents through the holiday months, Community Center Director Karen Dylewski said.

Walking into the small room at the center where the food and other products are stored, Dylewski pointed to the shelves, and noted that, even though a sizeable delivery of items had just arrived, the need is greater than ever.

 “With the holidays coming, we need it,” Dylewski said. “We’ll use $6,000 to $7,000 [worth of food] by December.”

The pantry relies almost entirely on monetary and food donations to operate, according to Dylewski. Individuals, organizations and companies make up the donors list. Any money the pantry receives is deposited in a checking account and used to stock the shelves.

It is also used to buy meals for the needy at Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when the pantry spends the aforementioned $6,000-$7,000.

Monetary donations only figure into a small portion of the food pantry’s operation. That’s not to say money’s not important.

“If they want to, they can send a check; that’s OK,” Dylewski said. But it’s easier for the folks at the pantry to have the items brought to the community center, that way time and resources aren’t spent shopping for inventory.

What the pantry needs most are donations of non-perishable food and personal items, Dylewski explained while standing next to half-stocked and almost-barren shelves in the inventory room.

“The need was never so great,” she said. “There’s people, they’ve just lost their jobs. … they need some help.”

Since the economy soured in late 2007, she added, more and more people have needed a hand making ends meet. As a result, demand has far outpaced supply recently. The self-sufficient people who might have given to the pantry in the past are doing so in much smaller numbers now because they, too, have been forced to live more frugally. Meanwhile, the list of those in need is growing. 

Bridget Dowdle, a community center employee who helps with the food pantry, estimated that the pantry’s inventory is roughly 75 percent smaller than it was around this time last year.

Items often go quickly this time of year anyway, flying off the shelves in the months leading up to the holidays, both Dylewski and Dowdle said. But if they don’t see a huge and steady bump in the amount of food that the pantry stocks, they’re not sure how they can continue providing services.

Back in 2009, Forest Parker Rose Krough read a Forest Park Review article that chronicled similar difficulties the pantry was facing at the time. There was a shortage in food, so Krough and a friend decided to set up a grid system in which they went to low-density homes throughout the village and placed bags outside of the doors requesting that folks donate items. They then volunteered to deliver the items to the community center.

They continue to do so – Dylewski refers to them as her “angels” – but Krough said even those donations are down.

“More and more people are hurting out there,” she said.

Other organizations like churches, the Girl Scouts, and community groups have held food drives for the pantry, Dylewski said, but right now it’s just not enough.

That’s why she and the pantry volunteers are calling on individuals to lend a hand. There are a number of ways to do so. People can drop off non-perishable items at the community center, at 7640 Jackson Blvd. They can call Dylewski directly at 708-771-7737 and a community center employee will pick up food donations. And checks are always appreciated, as are donations to any food drive.

Bottom line, said Dowdle, “We gotta do something.”