Jacksonville Area Food Center feels financial strain after requests for help are denied – WLDS

Time may be running out for the Jacksonville Area Community Food Center’s finances.

The food center has requested financial assistance from the Village of South Jacksonville, the City of Jacksonville and the Morgan County Commissioners.

The food center has operated at a $98,000 deficit through the first four months this year, according to a presentation to the city’s finance committee.

Food Center President Melissa Hall says they are looking for all the help they can get. She says the city and village have both said “no” to the food center requests at this point: “I’m just looking for any kind of money we can get. We went to town and asked for $70,000. I went to the village of South Jacksonville and asked for $15,000. With those two donations, it would have supplemented the negative situation of the current fiscal year. With the increase in food costs and the increase in the number of families we’re seeing, that’s the situation we’re in.”

One of the common criticisms the Food Center has heard is the low barrier they have for people needing food in the Jacksonville area. Hall says this is the way the Food Center has operated for several years, until now relying on area churches and donors to make ends meet: “The Food Center has been in Jacksonville for over forty years. We always did what we called ‘helpers’. We are the place someone can go if he or she does not qualify for Salvation Army services. Say someone has a family and a catastrophe happens – they still have an income, but that catastrophe hurts their finances, as far as the ability to buy groceries. We are especially here for those people on fixed incomes or experiencing catastrophic events who need help and who make too much money under the guidelines to go to the Salvation Army, MCS Community Services or any other organization.”

Hall says the Food Center doesn’t really qualify for grants from the federal government or other organizations because of the way they are structured as an organization: “We are one of those essential ‘non-essential organizations’ that don’t qualify for the federal grants from USDA, emergency grants, or any of these funding sources. We fly under the radar because we are church-based and locally funded, so we don’t have the national coverage that some other organizations do. We rely on churches, individuals, local businesses, and that’s all great. However, this year it will be hit a little harder by the increase in the number of people we serve and price inflation.”

Hall also says don’t be misled when you go to local businesses and ask to increase your purchases to help “your local food bank.” She says the Jacksonville Area Food Center does not receive these donations: “Every time you make a purchase at Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart, CVS; they ask you to pay more so you can help your local food bank. However, we are not. That will go to the Central Illinois Food Bank in Springfield. That money stays there. It does not trickle down to us, smaller food banks. As for helping or supplying us, it’s a yes-no with them. We need to purchase food through the Central Illinois Food Bank. That’s the biggest misconception out there: It’s not local to Jacksonville.

Hall says if they purchase food from the Central Illinois Food Bank, it must be in bulk at 500 pounds and there is a delivery fee. She says the local grocers don’t offer any price advantages, except that because they are a nonprofit, they don’t have to pay sales tax.

Hall says the only way to ensure donations stay in Jacksonville is to drop them off directly at the Jacksonville Food Center at 311 East Morgan Street during operating hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon. She says your donations can come in the form of money, food, reusable grocery bags and egg cartons. For more information about the Jacksonville Food Center, call 217-243-1122.