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River Bend Food Bank preparing for drop in SNAP benefits

Elizabeth Culbertson, executive director of FISH of Galesburg, and Aaron Barton, manager of the River Bend Food Bank Galesburg branch.
River Bend Food Bank
Courtesy photo
Elizabeth Culbertson, executive director of FISH of Galesburg, and Aaron Barton, manager of the River Bend Food Bank Galesburg branch.

Amid soaring food costs, area food banks and pantries are expecting even higher demand as Illinois SNAP benefits are set to drop to pre-pandemic levels.

SNAP participants in Illinois will see their monthly benefits cut anywhere from $55 to $255, and the average one-person household will see their benefits go down by $86 per month in March.

That’s after food pantries hosted by River Bend Food Bank in the Quad Cities already saw a 60% increase in demand last year because of higher food costs and supply chain issues.

Spokesperson Liz Dierolf said River Bend has heard anecdotally of similar increases at other pantries they supply across 23 counties in Illinois and Iowa.

“And with Iowa reducing SNAP benefits back to pre-pandemic levels last year, all of those factors contributed to an increase of folks seeking our help through our food pantries,” Dierolf said.

With people already struggling due to inflation and gas prices, River Bend expects a further increase in the coming months.

“How much that is, we don’t know yet," she said.

Fewer food donations River Bend supplies more than 400 pantries and other hunger-relief programs in the region from three warehouses, including one that opened in Galesburg late last year to better serve west central Illinois.

But how River Bend is getting food to their warehouses is changing, too.

Last year the organization saw about a 40% decrease in the amount of food donated by manufacturers, distributors, and retailers in the region, which is typically a large portion of what they are able to give to food pantries.

“We tell people, if you don’t see it in the store, we’re seeing empty shelves when you go to pick something at the grocery store. If you don’t see it there, that means there’s definitely not any extra that a business is going to donate to us,” Dierolf said.

Because of reduced donations and higher costs, River Bend is now buying more bulk and wholesale food for pantries than ever before to keep up with partner pantries’ needs.

“Thanks to generous community support and careful planning, we’re prepared to sustain an increased level of food purchasing throughout 2023,” Dierolf said.

What to do and how to help

SNAP participants with questions about their benefits are encouraged to call their local Illinois Department of Human Services office.

Or with more general questions, they can reach out to River Bend’s SNAP Outreach Coordinator for Illinois.

If you or someone you know could be helped by visiting a food pantry, find a pantry online or call River Bend Food Bank for assistance.

“We are here to help,” Dierolf said. “We definitely encourage everyone who is having to make impossible choices between buying groceries and paying for other necessities to visit our food pantry partners.”

River Bend also accepts food and monetary donations from those who wish to help their neighbors in need.

Dierolf said River Bend is only able to keep people fed when communities work together, and that’s been the case for the new Galesburg branch that serves area counties.

For example, the Knox County Pork Producers Association donated 1,100 hundred meals worth of ground pork, and Galesburg-based Sitka Salmon Shares donated 1,600 meals worth of frozen, fresh salmon and whitefish.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.