Forest Park Girls Scouts will scour the streets of town Sept. 28 to collect foods and toiletries for the Forest Park Food Pantry.Photo courtesy ELAINE LUTHER

The year’s largest food drive for food pantries in Forest Park and Oak Park will take place a month earlier than usual – on Saturday, Sept. 28. Five hundred local Girl Scouts will take to the streets that morning to collect donated non-perishables. The girls will hang more than 20,000 fliers in the next few days to let residents know about the drive.

Forest Parkers are encouraged to leave their donations in bags outside their doors by 9 a.m. that Saturday and mark them “Food Pantry.”

Even more important than food this year are toiletries and diapers, which are not provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, where the pantries get their staples of plain rice, vegetables and soup.

Other items the pantries can really use this year are laundry soap, shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste and hand/body lotion, according coordinator Lisa Files.

For those donating food, peanut butter, tuna, canned meat, soup, canned veggies, pasta and cereal are especially needed.

“The food pantries really love the Girl Scout food drive because they get such a huge variety of stuff,” said food drive coordinator Lisa Files.

The amount of cash donations has increased in the past couple of years, Files said. “They can really stretch a dollar at the pantry,” she noted.

Girl Scout mom Elaine Luther and her daughters collect in the six-block area around their Forest Park home on Adams. They wheel their donations to the pantry at the Howard Mohr Community Center.

“Last year, we got some toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Luther said. “So the word is getting out that toiletries are needed.”

She said the girls knock on doors for “about two hours” on Saturday morning and almost everyone gives something if they’re home.

Donations for the food drive peaked in 2008 when the economy dipped, Files said. But then donations fell “in terms of tonnage collected.”

The need, however, has not decreased.

“Client demand grew over 100 percent in two years,” said Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry Executive Director Michele Zurakowski, who said the Oak Park-based pantry serves 16,000 people per year, mostly on a once-or-twice basis after a crisis.

Forest Park’s pantry serves between 50 – 60 families per month.

“During the holidays we take care of about 160, give-or-take a few,” said Community Center Director Karen Dylewski.

The pantry gets year-round donations from collection boxes at the Post Office, St. John’s Church and Ed’s Way grocery stores. Tireless volunteers Marie Beckmann and Rose Krogh round up donations from condominium buildings year round, Dylewski added.

Any tax-deductible monetary donation the Forest Park Food Pantry receives is deposited in a checking account and used for holiday meals, Dylewski said.

“Every food drive helps as we see more people now than we ever did in the past,” she said last year.

Later in the fall, they will prepare for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when they will give out $6-$7,000 worth of food to needy families.

Residents of Forest Park should make checks payable to the Forest Park Food Pantry, 7640 Jackson Blvd., Forest Park, IL 60130.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...