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OPRF Food Pantry to shrink service borders

Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry employees and volunteers prepare for last year’s holiday season rush. Due to high demand and federal cuts, the pantry will be reducing its service area by 35 percent. (TribLocal file photo)

Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry employees and volunteers prepare for last year’s holiday season rush. Due to high demand and federal cuts, the pantry will be reducing its service area by 35 percent. (TribLocal file photo)

The Oak Park and River Forest Food Pantry will cut its service area by one-third in response to high demand and federal fund reductions, officials said Thursday.

Starting Jan. 1, the food pantry, which is located in the basement of First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St., will no longer serve residents from some Proviso and Lyons township municipalities, including Maywood, Melrose Park, Brookfield and others. Executive Director Kathy Russell said further restrictions of the pantry’s boundaries were necessary after federal budget cuts reduced the USDA emergency food assistance program.

Russell said they only cut out areas that have access to other food pantries. For example, she said Maywood does have a great need for services, but falls within the boundaries of eight other pantries.

“We started looking at the areas we serve and whether or not there were other food pantries,” she said. “We don’t want any communities to be without services.”

Towns in Leyden Township, like Elmwood Park, Franklin Park and River Grove, do not have other options, so they will remain in the OPRF Food Pantry boundaries. They will also continue to serve two West Side Chicago neighborhoods, Austin and Humboldt Park. The pantry establishes its boundaries by zip code, and will continue to service 65 percent of its current area.

Russell said the USDA cuts — which will have a $50,000 annual impact on the OPRF pantry —aren’t the only factor as rising food prices and a drastic increase in clients have put too much pressure on its $389,000 annual budget. The client base has grown 130 percent since the recession began in 2008, according to OPRF Food Pantry data. The pantry served 15,732 households in that last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

With the holiday season upcoming – the busiest time of year for food pantries — Russell said they are holding off until the beginning of 2012 to institute the new boundaries. During that period, they will be distributing fliers to the affected areas, informing residents of the change and giving information on other area food pantries.

This is the second time in recent years that the OPRF Food Pantry has reduced its service boundaries.

“We used to, before 2009, cover all of Cook County,” Russell said. “We were getting people from as far away as Alsip. (Use) was going up rapidly.”

Proviso Pantry, which is located in the Cosmopolitan United Church, 1112 N. 9th Ave., Maywood, is one facility in the impacted area. Jean Dillner, USDA coordinator for the pantry, said 160 families visit on an average Saturday, the only day they are open.

“We are handling it so far,” she said. “I can certainly understand (The OPRF pantry’s) decision. They were probably overwhelmed.”

Dillner said she believes her pantry, which serves all towns in Proviso Township, will be able to handle extra volume that may come from the OPRF pantry, adding that the worst-case scenario would be Proviso reducing the amount of food given out per person per visit or be more active in seeking donations.

“I think we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.

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