Food drives take aim at increased need

WESTVILLE — It's that time of year when Westville library patrons can dig into their cupboards rather than their pockets to pay up their overdue book fines.

Beginning Nov. 1, the Westville Public Library on South State Street started accepting bags of food in lieu of money for fines.

Library Clerk Barbara Dudich said patrons can get up to $5 in fines waived if they bring in a plastic bag full of food and up to $10 forgiven with a full paper bag of food.

The library has accepted food for fines for eight years, and it's always been successful, but this year, Dudich said, donations have been way down.

"I know last year they brought a pickup truck, and we had a pretty good haul," said Dudich, who added that the library also accepts donations from those who don't owe fines and will be taking donations until Dec. 3.

This year, Dudich said she's not sure there will be enough to distribute to as many food pantries in the area as normal. It will probably be just one pantry, said Dudich, who added that the library has given its donations to Westville area food pantries as well as the Danville Area Food Pantry in past years. Dudich said she knows that local food pantries are badly in need of donations not just for the holidays but for everyday foods as well. Dudich said she assumes it's the poor economy that has donations down so far.

It's not the only charitable program in the area that may have less to give away this holiday season.

State and federal cutbacks and increasing food costs have made it difficult for the Danville Rescue Mission to carry on a more than 20-year tradition of making Thanksgiving food baskets available to the community.

Ted Parker, director at the Rescue Mission, said state and federal funding to the facility, whose main mission is providing shelter to the homeless, has been cut 52 percent. That's put financial pressure on other charitable missions like the food basket program.

Last year, the Rescue Mission gave away 350 baskets, and one year, the total was 625, Parker said, but with the severe cut in regular funding, there will be no baskets this year. He said it costs about $10,000 for 300 food baskets, which continue to get more expensive as food costs increase. The price of turkeys, stuffing, bread and other food basket items has gone up, he said.

The Danville Area Food Pantry has also faced its own challenges with the supplemental funding it receives from government sources.

Chuck Brooks, chairman of the food pantry in downtown Danville, said his agency has been fortunate that the number of people donating has been steady, but the number of people coming through the pantry has increased. And the pantry came within weeks of closing earlier this year waiting on federal funding that was 11 months late and finally arrived in October.

"At that point, we were down to the lowest we've seen the food pantry in years," he said.

Local donations kept the doors open, he said, as companies and businesses like Robinson Chiropractic and Genpact did food drives at their facilities, and others including ThyssenKrupp and NACCO have drives coming up.

Brooks said the pantry's 13th annual Frost Bite Marathon food drive to fill a Pepsi delivery truck with non-perishable food items is coming up Dec. 2-3 at the County Market at Towne Center in downtown Danville. Donations can also be made at the County Market at the Village Mall, 2917 N. Vermilion St. Brooks said that even though donations during that annual drive have increased, the food doesn't last as long, because the need has increased. Usually, that food would last two months; now it's only a month, he said. Brooks added the pantry gets 50 to 60 new families a month.

Although the Rescue Mission won't be giving away baskets, it will carry on another longtime charitable tradition, serving Thanksgiving dinner at 4 p.m. today for its own clientele and for anyone in the community who has nowhere to go on this holiday, Parker said. He said he expects to serve more than 100 people today.

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