Vicki Seagle, coordinator of the Benton-West City Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry, is surprised at the decline in the number of people walking through the door.
"We served 615 people, or 225 families last month," she said. "During the same time period a year ago, we served 260 families or 700 people. That is down quite a bit from a year ago, which is strange and I am not sure I know why.
"We reached our peak at 755 people served in May of last year and the number had been declining ever since," Seagle said. "One answer could be that we are enforcing the address rule. You must live in the Benton Consolidated High School district to qualify for food."
She said other requirements include proof of address by either an electric or water bill. "We only serve one family per household," Seagle said. "In today's economy, more and more families are living together just to make ends meet but our requirements are firm in order to meet the demand.
"I have been begging and borrowing to make sure the food pantry is well stocked and we are struggling," she said. "Although we are struggling to find food to stock the shelves, we seem to be holding our own for the most part."
Seagle said the food pantry shelves are void of canned corn. "We have a great demand for canned corn and can not fill the need because we are completely out," she said. "In fact, we are low on all of the canned vegetables.
"If you can bring in a box of canned vegetables, it will not go to waste," Seagle said. "There is always someone who can use anything you bring in."
She said contributions of food and money continue to surprise her. "I had an elderly woman come in last week and hold out her hand," Seagle said. "She had three one dollar bills in her hand and said she wants the money to be applied to the summer lunch program. The woman said that was all of the money she had left after paying her bills and wanted to make sure that the kids did not go hungry. That really touched me. I went into the bathroom and cried like a baby after she left."
She said the school lunch program continues to hold its own. "We are serving only children, which is a big improvement from last year when I fear the program was being abused," Seagle said. "We have been blessed with a good staff, who come in on time and are ready to work.
"We are averaging between 150 and 175 kids a day who are receiving a sack lunch from either the food pantry or one of our outreach locations," she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Seagle said sack lunches are delivered by volunteers to the Franklin County Housing Authority, Hunters Trace Subdivision and the West City Police Department.
She said hungry children will receive a special treat on Friday, July 12. "We are feeding the kids pizza and ice cream from 11 a.m. until noon but they have to come here to get it," Seagle said. "Casey's is donating 10 pizzas and we are buying some from Domino's.
"If there are any leftovers, they will be delivered to the Brown Bag program that is provided through the First Baptist and the First Christian churches in Benton," she said.
Another program has residents lined up for two hours outside the food pantry. "We are serving 100 families a week through the West City-Benton Walmart Supercenter fruits and vegetables program," Seagle said. "We have so many people asking for fruits and vegetables that we have had to break up the number of people into units.
"Some get fruits and vegetables on Monday and others on Thursday," she said. "People start lining up before noon and we try to open the doors by 1:30 or 2 p.m. to start handing out the fresh veggies and fruit. We continue to give out the freebies until they are all gone or until I lock the doors at 5 p.m."
Seagle said even those leftovers do not go to waste. "I get on the phone and start calling the chicken farmers throughout the county until I find one who will take the left over fruits and vegetables," she said. "We seldom have leftovers because there are so many people in need. Quite often, we do not have enough to go around.
"We never throw away anything that can be used by someone else," Seagle said.
She said monetary donations and boxes of canned food is accepted at the food pantry at 320 S. Main Monday through Thursday. "We are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can really use all of the help we can get," Seagle said. "We just aren't getting that much from other food banks because there are so many food pantries struggling to keep their doors open."
Donations may be mailed to BWCMA, P.O. Box 934, Benton, IL 62812.
Seagle requests donors to note the name of the ministry they are supporting on the memo line of their checks.