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Even In Well-To-Do Glen Ellyn, Food Pantries See Surge In Demand As Pandemic Hammers Economy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- While the pandemic means little to no foot traffic at many businesses, it's meant the opposite for food pantries, including one in the well-to-do western suburbs.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside a church filled with people looking for produce, not prayer.

About 30 miles west of Chicago's hustle and bustle lies the quiet Glen Ellyn; the suburb's neatly-kept homes bring in an average six figures each year.

That makes the scene at Grace Lutheran Church in the middle of the village, frankly, unexpected.

"It is a surprise to people," said Paula Nugent, who helps run the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry out of the church.

The unloading, sorting, and packing operation has fed needy people in Glen Ellyn and 10 surrounding communities for more than 40 years, but this kind of frenzy is new. Suddenly, 42% more food is heading out the door.

"All of the restaurants, shops, everything is closed; and so I think people that have been able to make ends meet suddenly can't do that," Nugent said.

Appointments are up 98%. More than 1,500 people came through in the month of April alone.

One woman who has been getting food there is a longtime shopper, who feeds seven kids at home with the help of products on these shelves.

She said anyone else struggling to pay their bills and thinking of going to their local food pantry should definitely do it.

"It's out there for a reason," she said. "A lot of people are going through this. They're not there to belittle you, they're out to help you."

Bartender Felipe Cerritos swallowed that pill. He's on unemployment now, one of many people we saw in the emergency walk-in line.

"I never came to these pantries, never in my life; and, for this situation, this COVID, I don't have any other option," he said.

To keep up with demand - and social distancing - boxes and boxes of grub are stored in the church's gym. The lobby is now a sorting facility.

As Illinois opens up further during the next phase of the "Restore  Illinois" plan, the church will need its space back.

"Our ability to spread out and social distance could become more limited," Nugent said. "We don't want to be one of the pantries that's had to close."

They're continuing a pre-COVID capital campaign to create a warehouse in a Glen Ellyn home gifted to the pantry. Money can't come fast enough, much like the food needed to keep this community from going hungry.

The only question asked of folks seeking food: where do you live? You must be a DuPage county resident. There are no income guidelines.


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