Nearly 10 percent of all Illinois households face food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These households are unsure that they will be able to supply enough groceries to feed their families. Food pantries are just one way to fill in the gap, because they provide food to the hungry people in Illinois. Pantries throughout the state have certain criteria that have to be met in order to partake in the program.
Illinois food pantries function in many different ways. Hours can vary, depending on the level of need in the area and the resources available. A larger food pantry must be open eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Many smaller pantries only operate on Saturdays in order to accommodate those who work during the week. A minimum of two hours must be kept each week in order for the facility to be considered a food pantry.
The food pantries have to be either be government agencies or non-profit organizations with tax-exempt status. A food pantry is open to the general community, and those served must not be restricted by any factors other than program eligibility.
Food pantries require funding for every step of the process. Costs are incurred in acquiring, storing and transporting the food sources to the people in need. The budgets are modest. Food pantries acquire their food and grocery products through donations from local food companies, government agencies, food drives and special purchases. They may also receive their supply through the Feeding America organization.
Food pantries are required to provide proper storage facilities for the groceries and other commodities received from a food bank. The sites must comply with the same storage and handling guidelines that pertain to food banks.
These regulations include any directives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Illinois Department of Health Services, Illinois Department of Public Health and the local public health department. There also must be jurisdiction on where the site is located.
The food banks and distribution sites can be held financially liable for any products lost due to damage, theft or spoilage that was caused by improper storage and handling.
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Self-attestation is an acceptable form of determining eligibility. A person in need must sign a client signature sheet to prove they meet the income eligibility guidelines. The signature also attests to the residency requirement imposed by food pantries.
Documenting Social Security cards, drivers’ licenses and paycheck receipts for food pantry purposes are prohibited because of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. The pantry is only to use information that is necessary for the program to run properly. Any other use is not allowed unless the pantry is awarded permission by the Department of Human Services.
Leah Williams has written for many newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites, including the "Mt. Vernon Register-News" and "Nightlife." She has her bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and is now working on her graduate degree. Williams likes to write about parenting, arts and entertainment, education and features.