Food pantries provide for Mercer County needs

Hours and operations explained for Sherrard, New Windson, Viola pantries

Cathy Decker/Correspondent
A little Free food pantry was installed at the Morrison’s Market parking lot last fall for anyone needing food. Donations are from the public.

There are many Mercer County organizations involved in providing items for area food pantries. Below is a list of  most of the food pantries in Mercer County. Area churches typically have boxes inside their churches for congregational members to make donations. Because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many food pantries are now only accepting monetary donations.

Sherrard Food Pantry

The Sherrard Food Pantry is located at 406 3rd St., Sherrard, just east of the city park. Hours at the pantry are Tuesdays 1-3 p.m. and Thursdays 5-7 p.m. The pantry was established in 2010 and clients at this pantry come from 10 areas nearby including Sherrard, Fyre Lake, Swedona, Boden, Cable, Gilchrist, Preemption, Matherville, Viola and New Windsor.

Since the inception of the COVID-19 quarantine (and even before the quarantine was announced), the Sherrard pantry has not allowed client entry into the pantry. Prior to the “stay-at-home” order people would come in and shop off the shelves, choosing what they wanted for the month.

The amount of food given out is based on the household size. Households shopping there range from one individual, to as many as 9 in the household. Families can receive food once a month. “We’re not taking any food or hygiene donations,” said the Sherrard food pantry president and coordinator Patti Dixon.

She and a couple of volunteers work inside putting together food baskets for families using the pantry. In any month there are between 22 and 48 families receiving food. “It just depends on the need,” she said, saying they have had as many as 64 families come to the pantry. Typically it is during the holidays when the usage increases.

Families are given fresh produce, bread and dairy products (usually yogurt or milk).

River Bend Foodbank provides food for the pantry patrons at the rate of 18 cents per pound, with the fresh items coming to the pantry at no cost. Since COVID, the pantry has even stopped allowing families to bring in their own boxes. “We’re even bringing in boxes from River Bend,” she said.

Dixon said they also sometimes get food from Midwest Foodbank out of Peoria. Prior to the quarantine the pantry also took in food donations from the community. This has stopped, however, for safety reasons. “I actually decided to cease local deliveries prior to the notice from River Bend,” she said. “We sometimes take two vans up to get food,” she said.

Dixon also sometimes makes a trip up to Davenport’s River Bend Foodbank for additional food. She has not seen an uptick in numbers since the start of the “Stay at Home” order by Governor J.B. Pritzker.

While food donations are not currently being accepted, they are taking monetary donations. These donations can be mailed to PO Box 422, Sherrard, IL 61281, or delivered to 1st Community Bank in Sherrard. “Just let the bank teller know it’s for the Food Pantry,” she said.

The food pantry also has a Facebook page, where donations can be made. “They don’t charge us a fee because we are a non-profit,” she said.

To become a Sherrard Food Pantry patron the person only needs to bring a piece of mail delivered to their address and a photo ID, said Dixon.

New Windsor Food Pantry

The New Windsor Presbyterian church offers the community a food bank for those who are in need. The food bank is stationed in the basement of the church located at the corner of 4th Avenue and Walnut Street. “It’s on the north side of the sanctuary,” said Pastor Mark Bedford.

The pantry is a joint ministry of both United Presbyterian and Calvary Lutheran churches and is open the second Friday of each month from 12:30-2 p.m. “We usually open the doors at 12:30 p.m.,” said Bedford. “Volunteers from both of our churches work down there.”

Some essential canned and dried goods can be found as well as toiletry items. “Meat and margarine, as well as hot dog and hamburger buns are also sometimes available,” he added.

Donations to the food pantry are accepted at any time and are always appreciated, but perishable items cannot be kept. Please contact the church office at (309) 667-2412 with any questions. “We have a collection basket inside our Christian Education building, which is usually open most daylight hours” said Pastor Bedford. “Families are welcome to take up to two bags of groceries,” he added.

Viola Food Pantry

Viola Community Food Pantry is a mission of the Viola United Methodist Church, located at 1407 18th Ave., Viola. The pantry is open on the first Tuesday of the month: 9-11 a.m., and the third Thursday of the month: 1-6 p.m.

The food pantry has been in existence for the past 30 years and was started by Pastor Lorraine Martin. It is now being coordinated by two co-chairs — Ellen Christiansen and Pat Noy — along with volunteer help from a number of individuals. “We are supported by at least two other churches and multiple individuals,” said Christiansen.

Part of the contributions come through Greg Streeter of New Windsor. “Matherville Community Church has contributed monthly for years,” said Christiansen. “And Jim Morrison from Morrison’s Grocery contributes.”

She pointed out that this pantry does not use federal commodities. “We’re more concerned with a person’s needs,” she said. The geographical boundary for this pantry includes residents of New Windsor, Preemption and anyone living south of Viola. “If somebody comes in with needs we do not turn them away.”

Much of the food at this pantry comes from River Bend Foodbank. They also use Midwest Food Bank in Peoria. “River Bend provides us with fresh produce,” said Christiansen.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the Viola Community Food Pantry has buttoned down its distributions by putting together boxes for clients. Before the pandemic declaration, shoppers could come into the building and choose the food they preferred. “We normally are a free choice pantry,” said Christiansen. Around 40 - 45 families have been coming to Viola’s pantry each month.

“With the way things are going, we do have new clients these days,” she added. In addition the pantry serves homebound elderly and handicapped in the area. “We provide door to door service for seven homebound older or handicapped individuals,” said Christiansen.

Christiansen notes that the food bank providers are having to do a lot more work for the area food pantries that rely on them. “Next week we have to go down to Peoria for three pallets of food,” she said. She said that individuals wanting to contribute are also coming forward more often with monetary donations. “We just received $100 check from someone,” she said.

Probably the best way to make a contribution is to mail a check to Viola United Methodist Church, 1407 18th Ave., Viola, IL 61486.

Little Food Pantry

Viola’s Morrison Market has a “Little Food Pantry” located in the grocery store’s parking lot. It was put there by a suggestion from Viola native Dana Miller and built by Brian Basala, who lives across the highway from Morrison’s.

Amy Morrison said Dana approached the Morrisons about installing the little food pantry in the grocery store’s parking lot and was given the ‘go ahead.’

The pantry was installed in the fall of 2019. It is available for anyone who is in need and is stocked by individuals who want to contribute.

“When we had a cash mob (on Feb. 28, 2020) and a lot of people put items in it,” said Morrison.

Since the March COVID-19 pandemic was declared by President Donald Trump, Morrison’s grocery store has been swamped, Amy admits. “Toilet paper and other paper products are hot items,” she said.