This weekend, more than 500 Girl Scouts, from “Daisies” to cadets, will scour Oak Park, RiverForest, and Forest Park, placing green reminder tags on door knobs to bring attention to the annual Girl Scout food drive next week.
Some lucky doorknobs will also get a festive “bling bag” — a paper grocery bag from Whole Foods or Jewel specially decorated by scouts for the Oct. 25 food drive.
“We’re trying to switch things up and promote more interest in the food drive,” said Oak Park Girl Scout leader Christine Graves.
The drive collects food and toiletries for food pantries in the three villages.
“It’s our biggest food donation for the year,” said Forest Park Food Pantry Director Karen Dylewski.
Getting an infusion of new and varied foods is always a treat for food pantry managers, especially in the months running up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. As usual, the two village pantries are seeking the staples — peanut butter, coffee, soups and canned fruits, among others. Diapers, shampoo, toothpaste and other toiletries are also needed.
Dylewski said the pantry also welcomes Thanksgiving fixings, such as canned yams, stuffing mix, and boxes of mashed potatoes. And some of the scout cadets put extra care into their donations. This year, the Forest Park cadets in scout leader Marcia Hunt’s troop are making special “birthday bags” for the food pantry. The bags contain cake mixes, frosting kits and candles, and are bags food pantry clients can take for special occasions.
“That’s usually what gets missed when people are struggling for food, the celebration food,” Hunt said. “We put them into pretty gift bags and people can use the gift bags too.”
The Forest Park Food Pantry, located in the Howard Mohr Community Center, serves about 60 families a year. Dylewsky said she’s noticing more seniors coming to the food pantry than before.
The Oak Park Food Pantry, located in the First United Church in Oak Park, is a much bigger operation, serving about 1,600 families, according to its manager, Paula Berg, who said the pantry has seen an uptick in working families in the past year.
“These were, maybe, clients who came when parents who lost a job in the past and they disappeared for two years. But now they’re back because they need help stretching their dollars,” Berg said.
Anecdotally, Berg said clients were mentioning food price inflation, wage decreases and part-time work for their inability to make ends meet.
The Girl Scout food drive keeps the Oak Park pantry stocked for “about three weeks, in our busiest time of the year before the holidays,” Berg said, adding that she appreciates the variety of food brought in. Her pantry allows clients to pick their own food based on their tastes and needs, a change instituted several years ago.
“We love toiletries. Many of our clients are on SNAP benefits or food stamps, and those benefits don’t cover things like shampoo and cleaning supplies,” Berg said.
Scouts will begin collecting next weekend and then deliver food to the pantries. Berg remarked, “It’s an amazing thing to see all the different food come in. It’s a wonderful gauge of how much support we have in our community.”