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COOL food pantry helps feed struggling families

Courtney Fied (left) Waukegan AdelaidLopez Waukegan help stock shelves COOL Food Pantry Water Street Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

Courtney Fied (left) of Waukegan and Adelaida Lopez of Waukegan help stock shelves at the COOL Food Pantry on Water Street in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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About COOL

Waukegan-based COOL, a recipient agency of Help Them to Hope, operates two food pantries and a transitional housing program, which provides shelter, case management, life skills training and supportive services to homeless families. The agency welcomes volunteers.

COOL, 127 W. Water St., Waukegan, (847) 662-1340,

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Updated: January 26, 2013 6:03AM

Food gets lugged out the door almost as fast as it gets trucked in, sorted and shelved at the COOL food pantry in Waukegan, where pantry manager Gayle Olson peers at figures on a laptop screen, oblivious to the hubbub of people partaking in the bounty that surrounds her: bins crammed with day-old bread, crates packed with orange bell peppers, and a shopping cart piled with frozen turkeys.

Since its inception in 1982, Christian Outreach of Lutherans has provided millions of meals − a steady stream of sustenance to struggling families. But despite their work and the work of the dozens of pantries around Lake County that followed COOL into the business of free food, hunger is on the rise. As of Nov. 30, 2012, COOL, which also operates a pantry in Ingleside, served 54,570 people. Through all of 2011, it served 39,079,

“We’re seeing more and more situations where both parents are working, but they have to choose,” Olson said. “Do they buy food? Or pay the utility bills? Do they buy food? Or put gas in the car? Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you can pay the bills.”

On Wednesday, a line of people waited for the pantry at 123 W. Water St. in downtown Waukegan to open. Pamela Roberts, married mother of five kids, ages 4 through 18, arrived via a PACE bus. She expertly packed canned goods, frozen chicken and bread, among other staples, into five cloth bags. The family car is in the shop, she said. The LINK card has petered out. The kids need to eat.

Roberts, unlike other pantry regulars, who won’t give their names, who walk in with heads down and shoulders slumped, offers a smile and states the obvious: “Food’s getting low.”

The food gets low every month, said Roberts, who works part time and whose husband is employed full-time.

Other pantry visitors include a man who said he is a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, a 55-year-old woman who said she’s raising two boys who are “as big as men” and Nick Filliman, a case manager for the Department of Veteran Affairs and a designated pantry proxy who comes in regularly to pick up food for elderly veterans and widows of veterans. One widow, a woman in her 90s, loves bacon and greens.

Filliman surveys the contents of his bags.

“Got any bacon?” he asks at the counter. He soon holds up two frozen slabs. The widow will be overjoyed, he says grinning.

“Anyone who says you get rich off these programs, hasn’t lived it,” Filliman said,

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