Local food pantries prepare for the holidays

Twisted Cookie pairs with fire department for fundraiser

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By Maria Maxham

With colder months and the holiday season approaching, local food pantries are stocking up to supply those in need with meals.

On the east side of town, the St. Vincent de Paul Society runs a food pantry out of the basement at St. Bernardine Parish, 7246 Harrison, on the Marengo side of the building. Head up the stairs on the west side of the building, then down into the basement, and you'll find volunteers sitting in folding chairs waiting to help those in need.

The pantry is open every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., and they give out bags of food to people. Recipients are limited to receiving food once a month, and volunteers keep track. Recipients must provide their name and address. Volunteers also regularly supply the food pantry standing box outside the library at 1020 Desplaines Ave.

"We run out of food frequently," said Jim Murray, one of the volunteers who runs the pantry. "We rely on donations in the box by Mary's altar in the church. If we're given cash donations, we make a run to Aldi to buy supplies for people."

The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Bernardine has no refrigerator, so they accept and distribute only non-perishable food and supplies, like paper towels and toilet paper. Food they provide most often includes beans, cereal, coffee, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, pasta, beef stew, and canned tuna.

In the past year, they donated 1,150 bags of food to 525 people, which, including those people's families, serviced 725 people.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society also has a room of medical equipment that people can borrow, including wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and shower benches.

"It's often the people who really need help the most that don't come forward," said Murray, so when he hears of people in the parish or community who have lost jobs or are in tough situations, he tries to delicately reach out to offer assistance.

On the other side of town, the Forest Park Community Center at 7640 Jackson Blvd. runs a year-round pantry, known as the Forest Park Food Pantry, and distributes a box of food per person or family each month. They even do their best to honor food tolerances if people or families have certain allergies or problems with food. 

"We don't turn people away," said Karen Dylewski, who runs the food pantry. "If someone needs help, they need help. We're here to provide it."

The Forest Park Food Pantry also puts together meals they deliver to residents needing food for the holidays.

Dylewski said at this time of year they appreciate any food or monetary donations but especially those that help them assemble Thanksgiving meals, including boxes of dry mashed potatoes, stuffing, canned vegetables and corn bread mix. They like to supply holiday breakfast as well as dinner, so boxed cereal and coffee cakes are also appreciated.

The Community Center accepts donations of perishable food as well as well as non-perishables, since they have a refrigerator, so fruit, vegetables, meat and other fresh foods can be distributed too. Donations can be dropped off at the Community Center during the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The Community Center needs volunteers to delivered boxed meals on Thanksgiving. To volunteer, call 708-771-7737.

And for the second year in a row, Madison Street's Twisted Cookie is joining forces with the Forest Park Food Pantry and Forest Park firefighters to stock the pantry's shelves. On Nov. 16, Twisted Cookie owner Joana Fischer will be donating 20 percent of all sales to the pantry. Even better, desserts will be prepared and served by firefighters from Forest Park. You can also donate non-perishable food at Twisted Cookie, 7401 Madison St., from now until the event.

Firefighter Tim Ryan, who volunteered at last year's event, said it was a lot of fun.

"I really love helping the community out," said Ryan. When asked if he's good at making milkshakes and other desserts at Twisted Cookie, he laughed. "I'm not that great at it, but we'll be doing training again before the event."

Fischer makes sure she provides refreshers for repeat volunteers and training for new ones.

Brian Valtman, another firefighter with the Forest Park Fire Department who will be volunteering at the Twisted Cookie food drive said last year was fun, and he's sure this year will be as well. "We don't get to make the cool, fancy coffee drinks here at the station," he said. 

The fire department will also have a fire engine and truck parked in front of Twisted Cookie for kids — and interested adults — to explore.

Fischer is excited about the event. "I want to give back to the community that's supported me so much," she said. "I'm excited about this event. It's fun, and it's raising money for a very important cause."

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