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Aurora pantry serves up energy efficiency, too

Craig Schuttenberg (right) executive vice president Energy Choices Interfaith Food Pantry staff member BrisBarrazexplahow using Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) can

Craig Schuttenberg (right), executive vice president of Energy Choices, and Interfaith Food Pantry staff member Brisa Barraza explain how using Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) can help save money on energy over the life of the bulb on Friday, August 17, 2012, at Hesed House. Patrons received free packs of CFLs and tips on energy savings on Friday. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 27, 2012 10:56AM

AURORA — Along with a selection from boxes of fresh oranges and apples, packages of frozen meats and non-perishable food staples for the cupboard, area families struggling to feed their families received energy efficient compact florescent light bulbs to help reduce their electric bills.

“We have been slowly replacing the old bulbs — it saves a couple of dollars each month, but it adds up, especially when you have to stand in line for food assistance,” said Sandy Forth of Aurora.

“My husband will be surprised when I come home with light bulbs.”

The Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry gave each household receiving food a four-pack of 60-watt CFL bulbs and energy savings tips through the “Clean Air Counts” campaign, a regional environmental initiative of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

“If families can reduce their electricity bills, they can apply the savings toward their food bill, monthly mortgage and rent or all of the other expenses people have,” said Marilyn Weisner, the food pantry’s executive director.

The pantry is next door to the Hesed House homeless shelter on the city’s near West Side.

While the 50 to 60 families waited outside for the doors to open for the recent weekly food distribution, a representative from Clean Air Counts offered packets of CFL bulbs and energy savings information.

“A household can save about $25 a year using the new bulbs, but depending on the size of the house, a family can see a noticeable savings in their light bill each month,” spokesman Craig Schuttenberg said.

“Next to air-conditioning, lighting is the next highest percentage of your total energy bill,” he said.

Schuttenberg said the free CFL bulb distribution at local pantries is supported through the Clean Air Counts’ Energy Savings Program, which gives residential and small business electric customers options for choosing a supplier.

Judy Rippel of North Aurora said the food pantry is good about providing a little extra something from time-to-time, so she wasn’t completely surprised to see the distribution of energy efficient light bulbs to help her family.

“They are costly but you don’t have to replace them as often. We have two in the house but we were not looking to spend money to replace the old ones,” she said.

Rippel said she has been out of work since October and her husband is in sales but at times will stay home to care for their two special needs children.

“I have a promise of a job, but the paychecks will not be back-to-back,” Rippel said.

Weisner said the Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry provides food supplies to the equivalent of 11,000 people each month — up from the 8,500 clients per month in 2011 — and requests for assistance continue to rise. The local food pantry anticipates distributing about 2 million pounds of food by the end of the year.

“Obviously the families are here for food because their resources don’t stretch well enough to cover all of their expenses, but if we can assist them in other ways to conserve their resources, we like to do that,” Weisner said.

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