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Aurora food pantry expects to provide 1,500-plus holiday meals

From left volunteers Jonathan Sanchez 28 from AurorMariTrej15 from AurorElisNino 14 from AurorIsrael Vazquez 17 from Aurorhelp hout full thanksgiving

From left volunteers Jonathan Sanchez, 28, from Aurora, Maria Treja, 15, from Aurora, Elisa Nino, 14, from Aurora and Israel Vazquez, 17, from Aurora help hand out a full thanksgiving meal to area families in need at the Aurora Interfaith Food pantry on Monday, November 19, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 22, 2012 6:11AM

AURORA – It looked a little like traffic going to a football game, the line of cars along River Street backed up for blocks.

But it was no game – it was a more important expedition for those waiting Monday in the drive-through line for a Thanksgiving feast box from the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry.

Each box contained a frozen turkey, along with the trimmings for a dinner for six.

The holiday dinner is a yearly event for the pantry and its registered recipients, so much so that people were lined up in their cars as early as 7 a.m. for the 10 a.m. distribution.

“This is our biggest single distribution of the year,” said Marilyn Weisner, food pantry director.

Weisner said the pantry expects to distribute 1,500 to 1,700 turkeys this week.

Community effort

The pantry does separate fund-raising for money for the turkeys, most of which it buys from the Northern Illinois Food Bank. But the turkey distribution is a community event, too, with organizations such as Dart Container, which makes single-use foodservice containers, donating 100 turkeys, and Senior Industries, which makes electronic components, donating another 60.

The Aurora Caterpillar plant sends two different groups over to the pantry to work as volunteers, and another 40 volunteers from the community usually show up to help.

Even the Association for Individual Development helps and benefits – they pick up the cardboard boxes left over from the distribution and recycle them.

“We’re amazed at the turnout every year,” said Dave Gossen, Dart Container’s production manager, who was dropping off turkeys with Ron Haldeman, the plant manager. “We’re fortunate to get a chance to help.”

Food drive in final days

While Thanksgiving is time for the turkey distribution, it also signals the end of Aurora’s annual communitywide Holiday Food Drive, which is designed to help the food pantry for the rest of the year.

Wednesday – the day before Thanksgiving – is the last day people can buy the pre-packaged bags that make up the drive at the four participating grocery stores: Prisco’s Family Foods on Prairie Street; Cermak Fresh Market on North Lake Street; the Jewel Food Store at Eola and North Aurora roads; and the Jewel at Douglas and Route 30 in Montgomery.

The bags are assembled by volunteers and store personnel in $5, $10 and $15 levels.

This is the fifth year for food drive, and while it has grown, it needs to grow further, organizers have said.

The first year, the drive raised enough to stock the food pantry shelves for three months. This year it likely will stock the shelves for five months.

“It’d be nice to get enough for the whole year,” Weisner said. “While the drive grows, the need continues to grow, too. We will serve the equivalent of 156,000 by the end of this year.”

Weisner pointed out that among the families registered at the pantry, there are some 8,000 children.

“Good nutrition is so important for children – they learn better, they focus better, they get sick less often …” she said. “It’s important for adults, too, but it’s particularly important for children.”

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