A long line of people waiting in line for the COOL Food Pantry to open in Waukegan. | Special to Sun-Times Media
COOL’s 30th Anniversary Gala
It will be held Friday, April 5, at the Illinois Beach Resort. The evening will include dining and entertainment. Special guests will include Glen Kozlowski of WGN AM Radio and Karl Newyear, the “world’s funniest Lutheran.” Music will be performed by John Ludy Puleo. To register, and for more information on Cool’s 14th annual Plant and Flower Sale (reserve plants by Monday, March 25), visit www.coolministries.org or call COOL at (847) 662-1340.
Updated: April 26, 2013 6:09AM
One of the area’s oldest food pantries has seen how a lagging economy empties stomachs, and it’s stepping-up fund-raising efforts to help fill them.
The COOL Food Pantry in downtown Waukegan opened its doors on Jan. 3, 1983, the same day that the 98th U.S. Congress convened, declaring economic recovery as a top priority. The country was mired in a double-dip recession and people with no money for food were showing up hungry at area churches. Six Lutheran houses of worship banded together to help, forming the ministry Christian Outreach of Lutherans.
But 30 years later, recessionary times are back, food is more expensive and there’s little money to buy it for the poor, the unemployed and the agencies who serve them, like COOL, which will hold a gala anniversary benefit on Friday, April 5, at the Illinois Beach Resort.
“We have hit some months where we’ve served 6,000 individual people,” said COOL Executive Director Diane Thackston. “One month! We’ve seen years we didn’t serve that many.”
The long line that forms outside COOL (123 W. Water St. in Waukegan, and COOL West, 25519 W. Highway 134, Ingleside), is proof, Thackston said, that “economic recovery has not come yet to Lake County.”
And just when the pantry is seeing a sustained spike in numbers — over 200 individuals visited the Waukegan Pantry last Wednesday — government funding has been reduced. COOL is operating on $60,000 less, including a loss of federal Community Development Block Grant money that now goes directly to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
“It’s a great organization, but they don’t give food for free,” said Thackston, who added it’s not unusual for COOL to spend $5,000 a month at the NIFB.
“We still need money,” she said. “That’s why fund-raisers are so important.”
COOL will honor its founders at the April 5 gala, including Virginia Rady who, according to Thackston, came up with the COOL moniker. Meanwhile, at the bustling Waukegan pantry, manager Gayle Olson, worries.
“We have less money and more people to feed,” she said. “People who have jobs come to us for food so they can use their money for gas, utilities, the rent.
“We’re still seeing the chronically needy,” Olson said.
“But we’re seeing more people who have never stepped into a food pantry before.”
COOL also operates a transitional housing program for struggling families, from which last year sprang an unexpected bit of cheer.
“We had a family — longtime clients — come in last year,” Thackston said. “They handed us a check for $500 and said ‘Take us off the list.’”