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Food pantries need help stocking holiday shelves

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Madeline Hodek | For The Republic  Patricia Purkey stacks cans of soup Wednesday, Nov 21 at the Salvation Army Food Pantry. Purkey has been volunteering at the food pantry for 1 1/2 years.
Madeline Hodek | For The Republic Patricia Purkey stacks cans of soup Wednesday, Nov 21 at the Salvation Army Food Pantry. Purkey has been volunteering at the food pantry for 1 1/2 years.

Tables all around the county are teeming with food today, but the shelves at local food pantries are all but bare.

Dropping temperatures, rising utility costs and breaks from school all can strain families who have trouble making ends meet and stretch the already thin resources of local social service agencies.

“We’re short every week,” said Lt. Jodi Sladek, who runs the Columbus Salvation Army location along with her husband, Lt. Alan Sladek.

Sladek said their food pantry fed 526 people in October and already has seen 452 so far this month, including 62 new families.

How To Get Help

The Salvation Army

Located at 525 Illinois St., Columbus

Food pantry hours are 10 a.m. to noon Monday; 9 a.m. until noon Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; and 5 to 7 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month.

The pantry will be closed from Dec. 10 until Jan. 7 so the staff and volunteers can focus on special holiday outreach programs.

For information:


Community Center of Hope

Located at 543 Washington St., Hope

Food pantry hours are 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesdays.

For information:


The Love Chapel

Located at 311 Center St., Columbus: Food pantry hours are 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

To register for the Chapel’s Christmas Pantry program, call 2-1-1.

For information:


How To Help

The Salvation Army

Donations are accepted from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily. The center will be closed today and on Sunday.

Community Center of Hope

Donations are accepted from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Love Chapel

Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at 292 Center St. Volunteers are needed to assist with inventory, stocking and distributing items.

“We are seeing a lot of new faces,” Sladek said.

To meet this need, she said that the center spends $500 to $800 a week on food to fill the shelves, money that she would rather see go to funding other aspects of the Salvation Army’s mission, such as rent and utility assistance.

Alise Pate, outreach coordinator at the Community Center of Hope, also finds herself making more frequent grocery trips during the holidays to fill the center’s pantry shelves. She said she helped 64 families at the food pantry this week, double the usual number.

“My shelves are completely depleted of staples,” she said Tuesday afternoon, following the pantry’s weekly hours.

At the Love Chapel, executive director Elizabeth Kestler said the center will spend about $20,000 filling their shelves in November and roughly double that in December, to feed upward of 1,000 hungry households in Bartholomew County.

While Kestler said that they thus far have had the financial resources to keep the pantry full, they still struggle.

“The community has done a fabulous job of meeting the need,” Kestler said. “Our problem is keeping up with (the demand).”

She added that the chapel’s current, most pressing need is volunteers, particularly those with trucks, to work in the warehouse.

Much of the increased need is due to the food-focused holidays, but representatives from all three pantries also said that dropping temperatures mean an increase in utility costs, which cut into some families’ food budgets. In addition, visiting family and kids being on break from school mean there are more mouths to feed.

“The largest chunk of people who come in here are working,” Kestler said, “but the cost of living is going up.”

Pate also said many of their families rely on backyard gardens to keep their plates full, a virtual impossibility in the late fall.

In addition to canned meats, jars of peanut butter and boxes of macaroni and cheese, which are needed year-round, the holidays also mean an increased demand for seasonal items including stuffing, pumpkin filling, and meats such as turkey and ham.

“I bought 80 turkeys to hand out last week,” Pate said. “But they only go so far.”

Pantry staples typically used in preparing holiday meals are also in particularly short supply.

“Flour, sugar, oil — those things are gold in our pantry,” Pate said.

Still, all three organizations are thankful for any items the public can provide.

“It’s scary when we look at our shelves and they are bare,” Sladek said. “It breaks our heart to turn anyone away.”

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