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SNAP benefits may not cover people’s needs during the holidays. Food pantries in C-U are helping

At the Vineyard Food Pantry and Distribution Center in Urbana, volunteers help load food into cars. On Nov. 15, about 20 volunteers helped pack and distribute the food.

Millions of people in the U.S. rely on monthly benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to pay for groceries. Recently, the government increased these benefits by 12.5% for the next year to match inflation.

But even with the increase, SNAP benefits are not enough to cover what many families need this time of year, and local food pantries are stepping in to fill the gaps.

The Vineyard Food Pantry and Distribution Center in Urbana has served the community for more than 12 years, according to Paula Barickman, the director of the pantry.

This year, she said volunteers have loaded bags of food for more than 200 families every Wednesday morning and evening. 

Last week, the pantry broke its record and served 386 families in a single day. Additionally, 60 boxes of food were distributed to the Oasis Shelter and Restoration Urban Ministries.

Barickman said she understands why some families struggle to buy food.

“I do not think it is very mysterious if you walk into a grocery store to figure out why families need help,” she said. “Unemployment may not be high, but food is still expensive.”

Barickman said she tells community members to come to the pantry even if they have a job or receive assistance elsewhere.

Every family or individual who comes to the pantry receives one dessert, a bag of frozen fruit, crackers, juice, bread and potatoes. They also receive two bags of non-perishable items and a meat product.

In preparation for the upcoming holiday season, Barickman said the pantry prepared a bag full of Thanksgiving-themed items.

About a mile away from the Vineyard Food Pantry, another group of volunteers recently prepared Thanksgiving baskets for the community. 

The St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Urbana prepared 200 baskets including items like ham, stuffing and potatoes. 

Sally Czapar, the coordinator of the pantry, said some of the items came from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. Other items, like the ham, were bought with donations from St. Patrick Catholic Church

Czapar said the baskets were prepared to assist people who may otherwise struggle to feed extra people during the holiday season.

“I think people are hosting people, and people’s kids are coming home,” she said. “There is more need. In fact, some people say, ‘I have five extra people.’ So they get an extra bag for that week.”

In addition to the holiday bags, both Urbana pantries give out toilet paper, soap or other non-food items when available. 

Thanksgiving-themed items distributed at the Vineyard Food Pantry and Distribution Center in Urbana included food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and donations from Schnucks and Meijer. Stephanie Mosqueda / Illinois Student Newsroom

Barickman said these items are included because they are necessities that cannot be bought with SNAP. 

“If we have a chance to get household products and those kinds of things, we will make those available as we can,” she said. “We do not have an unending supply, but a lot of times those are important to people, too.”

Czapar and Barickman said it is important for the community to come together and help those in need, especially during the holiday season. 
People interested in donating or volunteering can visit the websites of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and the Vineyard Food Pantry and Distribution Center to learn more.

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Stephanie Mosqueda

Stephanie Mosqueda

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