Although food deliveries to the Benton Township food pantry have dwindled, the groceries serve as a lifeline for those in need.
Project manager Steve Rice said deliveries from the St. Louis Area Food Bank have declined in recent years, adding that the township makes up the difference by purchasing supplies locally.
"We accept donations but don't get as much as the other food pantry does," he said. "The Logan Church of God ladies' ministry donates on a regular basis. They have a box inside the church for people to put food in.
"We are supposed to refer people to the food pantry nearest to them, but we don't turn anyone away," Rice said. "It may just be a pound of hamburger and a box of macaroni and cheese, but we try to give them something. That will last a day, two if you really stretch it."
As food supplies have dwindled, so has the amount of food being picked up on a weekly basis.
"We used to give people two or three bags of food," he said. "Now, they get about half a bag. That can last about a week if you stretch it."
Benton Township covers 36.73 square miles, Rice said. "We have gotten people in here from practically every township in Franklin County," he said.
"I remember when a semi used to deliver to Benton Township about 30 years ago," Rice said. "People would come from all over the county to pick up food and we would make deliveries to the other communities."
He said times have changed.
"It used to be if you served more people, you got more food," Rice said. "Now we are expected to serve more people with less food, so everyone gets less.
"In 2001, you got two bags of food if there were between four and six people in the household and three bags for seven or more in the household," he said. "Then, you got a variety of nuts, canned and dry beans, fruit, juices, flour, fruit and nut trail mix, a variety of meat including ham, lamb, pork and turkey; fresh produce, rice, canned salmon and tuna and pasta and sauce."
He said the food pantry is open from 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
"People who have been relying on the food pantry know when to come," Rice said. "Sometimes, there is very little to give. Our lowest point was when we gave those in need a pound of hamburger and a box of macaroni and cheese. It wasn't much but it was better than nothing."
"For example, January has five Wednesdays in the month, so we have to stretch the amount of food we get," he said. "The amount of food we get varies from month to month. We usually get a half pallet of food once a month, usually on the second Wednesday of the month so we have to stretch it out to make it last through the month."
He said the food pantry served 60 households in December.
"There were 149 people in those 60 households," Rice said. "We keep track of who is receiving food."
He said Benton Township received a supply of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last August.
"In that shipment was a case, or 12 cans, of beef stew, and a box of whole chickens, or six chickens," Rice said. "That doesn't go very far.
"We use the donations we receive to buy meat and canned goods from Benton Save-A-Lot, too," he said.
"We receive free chicken once a year if we are buying from the St. Louis Area Food Bank.
"It is an incentive to buy food from them because it is cheaper. We have to pay the cost for the driver and the fuel for the truck from the food bank. It's still a good deal."
Rice said the U.S. Department of Human Services mandates eligibility requirements.
"They set the monthly income requirement," he said. "The gross monthly income for one person has been set at $1,722, $2,333 for family of two, $2,943 for a family of three, $3,554 for a family of four, $4,164 for a family of five, $4,775 for six people, $5,385 for seven and $5,996 for a family of eight. These requirements are extended through June 30."
Rice said checks made payable to Benton Township may be mailed to P.O. Box 365, Benton, IL 62812 or delivered to the township office at 1001 E. Main in Benton between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"If you want to claim this as a charitable donation, we will give you a receipt," he said.
For more information, call 439-3181 and ask for Steve Rice.