“If you give us cake mix, make sure there’s a can of frosting to go with it,” said Karen Dylewski, director of the Howard Mohr Community Center, reminding food pantry donors that her clients could use a bit of sweetness and fun when it comes to food donations.
The Forest Park Food Pantry is gearing up to box and deliver a Thanksgiving Day feast for around 140 Forest Park families next Wednesday. Dylewski buys lots of food for the two big year-end holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. At Christmas, she includes toys for the children.
Volunteers will begin to sort and box next week for an all-day delivery run to bring the festive feasts to local Forest Parkers who need some help during the holidays.
Each family gets a frozen turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy mix, green beans, cream of mushroom soup and dinky onions. They also receive a can of sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a box of stuffing and a pumpkin pie.
Dylewski throws in some food for breakfast and the long weekend: a box of pancake mix and syrup, a box of cereal, Jiffy cornbread mix and some fruit cocktail.
And she will toss in a bag of gummi bears, a cake mix or “something fun, if I’ve got it,” she said. The food pantry spends between $6-$7,000 every year on groceries for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
Last May’s CROP Hunger Walk donated $1,500 this year to Forest Park’s pantry.
As she led a quick tour around the pantry area, two volunteers wheeled in a significant haul of non-perishables.
“These are from the Grant-White Honor Society food drive,” Dylewski said proudly.
“Most of the stuff donated for Thanksgiving and Christmas goes right back out,” she said.
It’s a far cry from the fall of 2011, when the pantry shelves emptied out and Dylewski almost had to turn people away.
Forest Parkers quickly volunteered and local businesses held a peanut butter drive.
Although the number of monthly clients hasn’t really dropped since the recession hit in 2007, Dylewski said her volunteers have a year-round collection routine that has brought the food pantry to people’s attention. Volunteer neighbors Rose Krogh, Marie Beckmann and Jan Jones divided the town into quadrants in 2009 and set up a food-pantry pickup schedule that works year-round.
Collection points are also set up at Ed’s Way Foods, Schauer’s Hardware, other local businesses, churches, community groups and in local condo buildings.
“We’re no longer at crisis level,” Dylewski said.
About 60 families use the food pantry monthly.
“I tell them, ‘Once a month, but if you’re hungry, come back,'” Dylewski said.
She also collects toiletry items, toothpaste, soaps, shampoos and razors. “People always need toilet paper,” she said. The pantry wants diapers, too.
With a walk-in freezer and refrigerator, they can now accept donations of fresh produce and other items that need refrigeration, Dylewski said. This fall, members of the Forest Park Community Garden donated some fresh produce to the pantry.
Staples needed by the pantry include tuna fish, peanut butter and jelly, ramen, rice, beans, tomato sauce, pasta, pasta sauce, canned vegetables, chili, Jiffy mixes, cooking oil, pancake mix with syrup, and cake mix (with a can of frosting, please.).
Anyone wishing to volunteer to deliver the fixin’s for turkey dinners can come to the Howard Mohr Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd., by 10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 27.
“What would really be nice would be some baskets of fresh fruit or nuts, if anyone wanted to donate them,” Dylewski said.