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Lack of jobs increases need for Open Arms Mission

Open Arms Missidirector Marytherese Ambacker Antioch interviews client food pantry Antioch. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

Open Arms Mission director Marytherese Ambacker of Antioch interviews a client at the food pantry in Antioch. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Open Arms Mission

1548 Main St., Antioch

(847) 395-0309

For information on food assistance, call the Hunger Hotline at (800) 359 2163.

Updated: March 3, 2014 3:15PM

The year 2013 was a busy one for Open Arms Mission in Antioch, which served 547 more households than in 2012. Embedded in that figure is a lot of swallowed pride.

“People say to us, ‘The hardest part is that first walk through the door,’” said Marytherese Ambacher, Open Arms director.

Unemployment and under-employment are driving factors in the growth of Open Arms, which strives to meet the needs of people who have been pushed to the margins.

“There is an economic recovery,” Ambacher said. “But there is always going to be a certain group of people who it doesn’t quite trickle down to.”

Lack of education and spotty work records often send people to the pantry and to Open Arms’ other programs, including counseling, senior and school assistance and weekend backpacks stuffed with food for school-aged children.

”We’re seeing an age group that didn’t have the opportunity to build a stable work history,” Ambacher said on Tuesday, Dec. 31, during pantry office hours. “In a competitive job market, they’re not going to get full-time jobs with benefits. We’re serving people who are working part-time, temporary, entry-level jobs.”

Open Arms, which served 14,615 households in 2013, is one of eight recipient agencies of the Lake County News-Sun’s 2013 Help Them to Hope holiday campaign.

Ambacher said she has noticed one sizeable shift this year − more multi-generational households.

“It shows people can’t make it on their own, so they’re moving in with family members,” Ambacher said. “Most of the need is falling on the shoulders of parents on a fixed income of Social Security who now have their children and their grandchildren moving in.”

Co-living arrangements mean higher costs including sleeping arrangements and extra food.

“The water bill, gas and electric are also going up because there’s more people in the house,” Ambacher said. “And there’s the distinct possibility that the adult children are not bringing income into the house. So we have grandparents on a fixed income and children and grandchildren adding to bills.”

Ambacher shares another insight into the forces that add to Open Arms’ numbers.

“It’s not just retired grandparents on fixed incomes,” she said. “There’s the group between 50 and 65 who are still working. Maybe a daughter and her kids have moved in or the kids are home from school and eating everything in sight.”

But Ambacher and her loyal core of volunteers refuse to get down about the entrenched need, also evidenced by the fact that Open Arms shopped for more than 700 children this holiday season − an increase of nearly 100 over last season.

“The upside to all this is that within Lake County, we have individuals and we have small businesses that are willing to step up to help,” Ambacher said. “We just need to communicate the right message. And the message is: In every area of the county people are struggling.”

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