(Courtesy of the Free Press Wilmington)
04/07/2020 By: Marney Simon Editor
Wilmington food pantry provides to the public during pandemic
VOLUNTEERS AT Kuzma Care Cottage in Wilmington bring groceries out to the patio for no-contact pickup by clients. Kuzma Care remains open Monday through Friday, but will be closed this week for Good Friday. Photo by Marney Simon.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home order put in place by Gov. JB Pritzker have forced residents to cut back on spending, with companies cutting workers’ hours and a record number of folks applying for unemployment benefits. But in Wilmington, Kuzma Care Cottage remains fully operational, there to assist the public when it comes to stocking their pantries with nutritious foods and household goods. Kuzma Care Cottage director Heather Hobbs said the non-for-profit is urging the public to take advantage of what Kuzma can offer during uncertain times. “We are full and stocked and ready, we’re ready to serve,” Hobbs said. “We’ve got lots of food, we’ve got more access to food, we’re very prepared. We’ve seen a lot more new families come, which is good. “I’ve been trying to encourage everybody, there are so many people losing their jobs or having their hours cut, it’s sad what’s happening to our families in town,” Hobbs continued. “So, I’m just trying to encourage everybody to use us first, and then see what we can give you, and then go get your groceries at the store for what you need after that. We’re trying to help people stretch their money.” Hobbs said Kuzma Care serves everyone in the 60481 zip code. During the pandemic, Kuzma Care will not require clients to fill out paperwork regarding income guidelines. “If they’re hungry and they need food, they need to come see us,” she said. Nancy O’Brien of Wilmington has utilized Kuzma Care Cottage often during her 15 years in Wilmington. She, too, encouraged the public to use the pantry if needed during the pandemic, to help get through difficult times. O’Brien said Kuzma has helped her by providing certain staples, which help her to stretch her regular grocery budget for her family. “I can plan my meals from what I’ve gotten from Kuzma, then I’m not spending near as much at the grocery store now,” O’Brien said. “That money can go for my medicine, putting more gas in my car. Kuzma helps me to offset the money that I would be spending in the grocery store.” O’Brien said Kuzma Care has been a life saver over the past several years, helping her and her family stay fed during difficult times. Now is no different, she said. “They’re very, very generous,” O’Brien said. “They’re a wonderful program, I can’t even stress enough. Thank goodness for them... Utilize them for what they truly are, because they are a wonderful organization.” O’Brien also said that Kuzma Care Cottage is unlike other pantries, where people sometimes have to wait in long lines. “The experience with Kuzma is painless and pain free,” O’Brien said. “It’s not an embarrassment. Kuzma has saved me from such ruins in my lifetime.” Kuzma Care remains operational five days a week during the pandemic, with some minor adjustments. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon, but Hobbs said clients should call before coming, as there may be temporary closures during the day for restocking. “Call us first, then they’re going to pull up to the back porch by our back door, and then just stay in their car until instructed by a volunteer,” she said. Hobbs said that clients who have visited before can give their personal information that Kuzma Care already has stored, but new clients will give some information as they pull in. “We just need to know how many are in the household,” Hobbs said. Volunteers will do a no-contact delivery, where the volunteers will bring food to the porch, and then the clients will get out of their vehicle and pick up those boxes. “We’re a very unique food pantry, we’re open every day, Monday through Friday,” Hobbs said. “There are a lot of food pantries that serve a lot more families than we do that are only open one day a week. But, we give them a lot of food.” Hobbs noted that many food pantries provide a grocery store type of facility, where clients enter and shop. Since Kuzma Care Cottage is a small facility, they’ve already been set up to deliver food to cars rather than have clients enter and shop. The setup has helped the center operate almost seamlessly during the pandemic. “It’s actually working for our advantage as far as distributing food,” Hobbs said. “Those larger food pantries, now those folks are just getting a box, and that box may last them just a few days. We’re providing them the regular amount of food we’ve always given them, plus more, it will last them a week.” Hobbs said Kuzma Care would normally average around 230 families per month, but that has vastly increased since the stay-at-home order was issued. In just the first week of the order, the pantry assisted 120 families. “We’re seeing about double, and we are seeing new families already,” Hobbs said. “That’s good. I think the word is getting out to people that they don’t have to have been here before, just come.” Hobbs said the success of Kuzma Care Cottage, especially during the pandemic, is due to the support of the Wilmington community. Hobbs also said she’s fielded calls from folks looking to volunteer, but for now and for safety reasons, the pantry is running on a skeleton crew. “The outpouring of people wanting to come and help has just been overwhelming,” she said. “The donations have been coming in. For every $1 we receive, we’re able to purchase $8 of groceries though our partnership with the Illinois Food Bank. So, that makes a big impact for us.” While monetary donations are the most useful, Kuzma Care Cottage is still taking donations of canned and boxed goods. Those donations are stored for 72 hours, then sanitized for safety before being delivered. Hobbs said community means everything during this time. “Just how wonderful Wilmington is as a community,” she said. “We’ve had so many churches and social and civic organizations reach out to us and just want to know how to help. I just encourage everybody you know, spread the word, if you know someone who’s shut in and they need food, pick it up for them. If your neighbor needs food and can’t get out of the house, just come and get it for them. We are ready.” For clients like O’Brien, Kuzma Care Cottage has helped during the most dire of circumstances. “They’ve been a godsend,” O’Brien said. “Coming out here to Wilmington, I was working at the gas station one day, and [Heather Hobbs] approached me, she overheard me talking to one of my fellow employees about how I was struggling so badly... Heather overheard me saying that I don’t know how many times someone can eat hot-dogs in one week. I had had enough, and Heather overheard me and she asked me to step aside. She talked to me, it kind of brings tears to my eyes. She told me all about Kuzma, and all that they have to offer. It’s an amazing experience.” Kuzma Care Cottage, 635 S. Main St., can be found on Facebook at @kuzmacarecottage. The Facebook page also includes information for the public on how to apply for SNAP benefits.