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Late last year, the increasing prices of food and fuel were putting pressure on the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s ability to meet the needs of hungry people through its food pantries in the 14 counties surrounding Champaign County.

Since then, the price of oil hit a record high and the costs of basics such as rice have been soaring higher, too. With the U.S. economy having taken a turn for the worse, the lines at food banks have gotten longer.

Not surprisingly, things haven’t gotten any easier for the food banks, either.

“The pressure has gotten much greater,”says Jim Hires, Executive Director at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. “As lines at pantries have grown, we have not been able to increase our ability to acquire food.”

In Champaign County alone there have been significant increases in the number of people seeking food bank food in the past few months. At this time last year, according to Hires, approximately 11,000 people visited food pantries in Champaign County each month. Now the number has grown to more than 13,000.

“We’re still trying to serve as many people as we can,” Hires says, “but our need for food is much greater, and our need for funds is much greater.”

Beyond high prices, national food bank stores are low on goods and federal assistance has been short compared to recent years, according to Hires. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank hasn’t had to cut services, but the organization is having a more difficult time meeting the increasing demand, particularly under the circumstances.

“It’s challenging, but we’re still here doing what we do, finding ways to get it done,” he says. “We just need more help.”

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s largest fundraiser, Food for Families, won’t be held until this fall. Until then, the organization seeks cash or food donations. Cash donations can be made online, and a list of other forms of giving is available. (An easily-organized fundraiser Hires suggests is hosting a potluck where each guest brings a dish to share and a $5 or $10 donation to the food bank.)

The food bank also is eager to help local groups organize their own food drives; contact information is available here

“I’m confident that we’ll continue to get support from the community, because these [hungry] people are their neighbors,” Hires says.