By Dean Wright, Director of the Freeport Area Church Cooperative
December 5, 2017
If I’m being truly honest, I would admit as the director of a homeless shelter and food pantry that this is not necessarily my favorite time of year. The arrival of cold weather signals the beginning of the season in which homeless people need to find a warm place to stay and where rising heating bills leave many families short on money and, subsequently, short on food.
It’s the time of year when the Freeport Area Church Cooperative becomes an almost 24-hour/seven-day-a-week operation, and with that comes a number of challenges and headaches.
Couple the increase of clients with our organization’s only fundraiser — the Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon (which, by the way, is Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Wagner House; tickets are $25 at the door) — and the assembly and delivery of 210 Christmas baskets to families in need, and the days can get long.
That said, this is also the time of year when I get to witness some truly amazing things. Each year, FACC’s food pantry receives and distributes over $180,000 worth of food to more than 3,000 men, women, and children who find themselves short on food. What might surprise you is that 70 percent of those who come to us in need of food only come to our food pantry once or twice per year. Only a very small number (7 percent) meet or exceed the maximum allowable visits of six times per year.
What might also surprise you is what the “typical” (or average) FACC pantry client looks like. When breaking down the demographics of our clients, we find our “typical” pantry client is a widowed female over the age of 65 who is living on a very low fixed income from Social Security.
Though we — like most social service agencies — certainly serve our share of people who take advantage of the system, our data suggests most of our pantry users are responsible people who only ask for our assistance when they absolutely have to. I suspect our experience of pantry usage is similar to the other food pantries in the area as well.
But the truly amazing thing that occurs each year in our pantry is witnessing the tremendous amount of support we receive within the community. The vast majority of the 40 tons of food FACC distributes each year comes from our community through various organization food drives, monthly giving through our many churches, and just random acts of giving by individuals who feel compelled to help those in need.
I imagine most social service organizations in Freeport and in the surrounding communities each have stories about how the people in our region step up every day to help their neighbors and to make their communities a better place for all of us. The giving nature of northwest Illinois is one of the cherished attributes of the people in our region, and I’m blessed to have a front row seat to witness the commitment we have to each other.
Dean Wright is the Freeport Area Church Cooperative director. Journal Standard article link.