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Food mobile helps fill holiday hunger gap

By Landon Cassman/CU-CitizenAccess '” Dozens of shivering men and women lined up Saturday at 6 a.m. outside First United Methodist Church, waiting in the season's first snow for the doors to open so they could get food from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank Foodmobile.

The food pantry wasn't scheduled to open until 10, but volunteers from the Foodbank and United Way decided that they'd get an early start distributing more than 8,000 pounds of food, enough to feed 150 families.

Eric Westerlund, AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison for the United Way, said the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council paid the $2,000 fee to bring the Foodmobile to Rantoul. This is one of four food mobiles that Westerlund coordinated with local labor unions to fund for Central Illinois.

"The winter is a hard time for families,' Westerlund said. "The children are off from school where they are usually able to get free or reduced lunches. When they come home for break, it can put a strain on parents.'

Tables were set up in a U-shape to accommodate people as they filled laundry baskets with a variety of items. Westerlund said the Foodmobile truck contained food that was "high in protein and had nutritional value.' Items such as potatoes, celery, baby food, cleaning supplies, soy nuts, and many others were spread out for the taking.

"The food given out today should be able to feed a family for about three to four days,' Westerlund said. "The hardest thing with poverty is acknowledging the fact, and getting over the shame of it.'

But many people who were there did not seem ashamed about receiving food. Mike Webb from Rantoul said that he goes to the First United Methodist Church food pantry often.

"The people here are very nice,' Webb said.

Webb said that he is currently unemployed mainly because no one seems to be hiring. He worked at a nearby school as a janitor for several years, and then at a McDonalds, until his father's health deteriorated and he had to quit. His father died two years ago, and Webb has since been unable to find a job. But he's hoping that he'll soon be able to get a job at Hardee's wiping off tables and cleaning the floors.

Tim Tadlock, Chairman of the church's Board of Trustees, said there are many like Webb who come to the pantry regularly. The church publicized the Foodmobile through fliers and phone calls, but also relied on Webb and other regulars to spread the word.

About five hundred people were expected to come through for Saturday's distribution, and by 9:30, the crowd and the food were already dwindling. Some people were asked to help by lifting baskets of food out to cars and shoveling snow that kept falling.

Clayton Seggebruch, 18, of Gifford, and Joshua Curry, 20, of Rantoul, said they originally came for a box of food, but agreed to volunteer. Seggebruch said that he, Curry, and Curry's mother come to the food pantry often.

Curry lives with his mother, who is unemployed and currently receives disability benefits. Though the disability check and child support from his father are usually enough to cover their food expenses, Curry said they go to the food pantry to ensure their shelves are never empty.

Kristen Costello from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank said 30 Foodmobiles have been scheduled between July 2010 and June 2011. In December there will be one more in Champaign and one in Urbana.


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