Eastern Illinois Foodbank sees increase in emergency food clients

A study released by the Eastern Illinois FoodBank and the Feeding America organization concluded that the number of individuals receiving “emergency food” has increased 133 percent since 2005.

The Eastern Illinois FoodBank serves as a food distributor to soup kitchens and food pantries in 14 counties, including Champaign County, said Cheryl Middaugh, director of marketing and development at the food bank. She said the organization collects a majority of its food through fundraisers and donations from manufacturers and it purchases the remaining 15 percent of food it distributes.

In 2009, about 106,000 individual visits were made to the food bank’s numerous emergency food locations, which is an increase from the estimated 44,000 individual visits made in 2005, Middaugh said. In addition, the amount of elderly visits rose from 864 in 2005 to 8,048 in 2009. Middaugh said the economy can account for the growth of clients coming to food agencies.

“Between 2008 and 2009, we saw a 30 percent growth (of clients),” she said. “It is certainly the economy in the last year; it is pretty obvious what happened between that time.”

The food bank releases this study every four years. After the last one, foodbank personnel decided on a plan to create “more, better and stronger” food pantries, Middaugh said. She said the project is called “Alleviate Hunger-Champaign County,” and the initiative has helped increase the number of food pantries in the area to serve those in need.

The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, located inside New Covenant Methodist Church, 124 W. White St. inChampaign, is a lunchtime soup kitchen that serves free lunches from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Middaugh said the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen is one of the agencies the Eastern Illinois FoodBank distributes food to, but volunteers say the soup kitchen also gets food from other sources.

Dolores Sofranko, volunteer at the soup kitchen, said she has noticed an increase in clients.

“People began to increase, increase and increase,” Sofranko said. “We would get no more than 50 people, and now we average 80 to 100 people a day.”

Sofranko said anyone is allowed to come to the soup kitchen, and some people come regularly throughout the week. Marina Sherrill, a school crossing guard, said she has been going to the soup kitchen for more than four years.

“I come once or twice a week,” Sherrill said about the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. “It is helping everybody; anybody can come here to eat.”

Although Sherrill has worked as a crossing guard for more than ten years, she said it is hard to afford food.

“We see people who have jobs, but their paychecks don’t cover food,” Sofranko said.

Many different groups, regardless of religion, come to the church to volunteer at the soup kitchen, Sofranko said.

“People here just want to serve the poor,” she said.