May 31, 2022

A bustling food pantry is the gem of the Jacksonville, Ill., Salvation Army corps, distributing more than 10,000 pounds of food a week to hungry people in need.

The pantry, which contains frozen meats, fruits and vegetables, dairy, bakery and even pet food, is a relatively new creation of the Jacksonville corps, which started a year ago when Capts. Chris and April Clarke were installed as the corps’ officers.

“We have a large need in our community,” Capt. Chris said. “We’ve added a pantry, a large pantry, where people can go through with shopping carts. They have everything that you have in a grocery store, pretty much, in aisles that people shop from and take what they want. People have been really good with that. It’s been a big success.”

The five tons of food that moves weekly is a fraction of where goals have been set.

“Our goal this year is to give away at least 500,000 pounds of food through our food pantry,” Capt. Chris said. “People are filling the carts.”

By Midland Division food pantry standards, the Jacksonville operation is one of the strongest and most developed.

Food is collected from donations and pickups at a local Walmart and County Market, and Central and Midwest food banks. The University of Illinois Extension also works with the pantry to provide healthy options.

The University of Illinois Extension, via the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, awarded the Jacksonville pantry with a gold level status on its Nutritional Environment Assessment and a Health Pantry Initiative certificate for the corps’ work with healthy food options, including food “nudges,” as Capt. Chris said, which put less healthy options at the end of the pantry aisles.

In addition to the pantry, dry food USDA commodities are available for pick-up Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and lunch is served every day for, on average, between 60 and 70 people, Capt. Chris said.

Joyce Bock, the “volunteer boss” of the pantry, said she puts in a nearly full-time job of volunteer work at the corps. Much of this work is stocking the food pantry, in addition to meal preparation and distribution.

“I retired when I was 55 – I don’t feel like I should just sit around,” Bock said. “I love doing this. It’s in my heart to do it. I’m 73 now, and I just love it.”

Bock guides people through the pantry aisles with directions and offers guidance on how many products to take of each item.

“God tells me to do this. I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Bock said. “I love the people here. The homeless, I talk to them all. Some of them I pray with. I enjoy every one of them. I made a lot of friends here. It’s enjoyable to know I’m helping somebody.”

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