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Commentary: The hunger cliff

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad
courtesy photo

As a kid growing up, one of my favorite meals was “breakfast for dinner.” Eggs, bacon, and toast with butter and jelly. When our girls were little we probably had this meal once a week. It was affordable, filling, and comforting.

But when I look at the price of these items in our local stores, there is nothing comforting at all about the cost. The average price for a dozen eggs has dropped from a record high $7.00 to $3.75. Bacon costs approximately $7.00 a pound. A gallon of milk will set you back $4.00 and butter is a whopping $4.00 a pound to spread on top of your $2.50 loaf of bread. At these prices we will skip the jelly on top. That’s a total of $21.25 for one meal for a family of four.

While this might seem affordable, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits for a family of four is $186.00 per month. This one simple meal - which doesn’t include any fruits or vegetables - is approximately 11% of the monthly food budget.

Millions of people in our country are facing a "hunger cliff,” with 32 states - including Illinois - slashing emergency SNAP benefits that were established during the COVID-19 pandemic. These cuts will impact more than 30 million people who are enrolled in the SNAP and many of them reside in our communities.

More and more people are seeking assistance to cover the rising costs of food, rent, and utilities. We are fortunate that our community has several organizations to assist those in need. One of the cornerstones of assistance in McDonough Country for over 25 years has been Loaves & Fishes. We are an all-volunteer organization sponsored by twelve area churches and generous donors throughout the region.

Those in need of food and non-food vouchers for rent, utilities, and medicine can find us at the Housing Authority of McDonough County’s Community Center of Prairie View Homes located at 425 N. Prairie Street in Macomb. Volunteers are on staff to assist clients on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

In January we served 130 clients with $4,465.00 worth of assistance. February saw clientele rise to 184 individuals for a total of $6,460.00. In March we observed a slight decrease in clients having served 129 individuals for a total of $4,825.00. That’s a whopping total of $15, 750.00 for the first three months of 2023. And that is just for food. Non-food assistance totalled $9,147.36 for the first three months of 2023. Combined, Loaves & Fishes distributed a total of $24,897.36 to help those in our community.

One of the major changes we noted was that many of our clients were Western Illinois University students. Despite the generosity of our donors, our funds are limited. As such, the board has made the difficult decision to discontinue providing assistance to WIU students for the time being.

But fear not dear students, our community has several other organizations that provide food and non-food assistance. Western Illinois Regional Council and Good Food Collaborative have opened a choice-based food pantry at the WIRC office located at 133 West Jackson Street. This pantry is available to all residents of McDonough County and is open Tuesdays, Thursdays 2:00-6:00 pm and Saturdays 10:00 am-2:00 pm. You can call (309) 255-4710 for more information.

Closer to home and literally on campus the WIU Food Pantry is housed in Horrabin Hall and is open Thursday noon-5:00 pm, Saturdays 10:00 am - noon, or by special appointment. They have a wide variety of food and non-food items available for all who need assistance.

Our community is generous with both their monetary contributions and their time. As tax season rolls around, perhaps you will consider earmarking a bit of your tax return to help others. And if you don’t have the funds to do so, consider donating some of your time to volunteer with one of these wonderful organizations. Being of service to others is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.