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Diana Kuyper: Woman’s food drive is payback

Updated: August 3, 2011 9:59PM

The choices are few at the food pantry these days, so Vanessa Engquist’s “Fill the Truck” food drive to benefit Open Arms Mission Food Pantry comes at just the right time.

The summer food drive will be held outside the entrance to Wal-Mart in Antioch beginning today through Sunday. Last year in June, Vanessa collected 5,700 pounds of food and other much-needed items, including the basic necessities of toilet paper and laundry detergent.

Her follow-up food drive in January received an even better response: 9,700 pounds of food and other items were dropped off at the truck parked outside the store at Deep Lake Road and Route 173. This is the fourth food drive she has organized at Wal-Mart, and she is hoping to top her total collected in January by a modest 300 pounds.

“I think the community of Antioch and surrounding towns can help me achieve my goal of 10,000 pounds for the food pantry,” she said.

The food pantry on Main Street next to A to Z Rental helped her several years ago when she was unemployed.

“I didn’t have a whole lot. I wasn’t eating, so I swallowed my pride. I went to Open Arms Mission where they gave me food, helped me find a place to live and gave me resources to find another job.”

She wanted to give back to the organization that helped her by organizing a food drive in January 2010. She was a one-woman dynamo, sitting outside Wal-Mart for an entire weekend in the cold as generous shoppers handed her bags of donated food and other necessities to “fill the truck.”

“My goal is always to ‘fill the truck.’ That is my challenge to everyone,” said Vanessa, who figured a January food drive would help carry the food pantry through the lean winter months.

The initial event far exceeded her expectations. “I thought I would sit out there and collect a bit of stuff, but the result was awesome. I had one lady donate a whole shopping cart of food. It was unbelievable. It was better than what I imagined.”

Engquist said her personal experience opened her eyes to the widespread problems of hunger.

“It is a big problem. The statistics are high and growing for hungry people in Lake County,” she said. “It is astonishing that it could be your neighbor who is hungry.”

Diana Kuyper’s column appears Fridays. You can e-mail her at

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