Food assistance available in Coles County

Abby Lee, Staff Reporter

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The areas of Charleston and Mattoon have several food pantries available for anyone in need of them.

There is one in Charleston called the Standing Stone Community Center and goes hand in hand with Carpenters Table.

This is located at 375 North 14th St.

There is one in Mattoon called the Mattoon Community Food Center. This is located at 600 Moultrie Ave.

The Standing Stone Community Center is open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. 

The Mattoon Community Food Center is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. and on Thursday from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Dawn Thomson, executive director of Standing Stone, said it is used primarily as a clothing ministry.

“We serve about 8,000 people a year and they can get up to five items of clothing per person present,” Thomson said.

Each person can come in every 30 days to receive this closing free of charge.

They are able to make a donation if they would like, but if they are not able, it is still acceptable to shop.

“Most people think of the food pantry first, but really it’s the clothing that helps fund the pantry,” Thomson said.

People donate to Standing Stone’s old building where Eastern had its community service event Jumpstart. The volunteers look through the clothes to make sure they are acceptable and get them ready to bring them over to the Standing Stone building.

Standing Stone does a couple of things in order to get the food they have.

They are a part of the Feeding America Program, based out of the food bank in Champaign-Urbana. Standing Stone also buys from local grocery stores like Aldi; they usually buy over $500 a month from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, and they receive donations.

“We can purchase food through the food bank cheaper than what most people can buy things at the grocery store,” Thomson said. “If people don’t have a preference, it really helps out the most when people donate dollars.”

“We are one of the few places, at least in Coles County, that does two things. One is you can get food twice a month and then we do a point system depending on the size of the family,” Thomson added.

The point system determines how much food an individual or family receives.

“If you have 1-2 people, you get 15 points; 3-4 people get 22 and five and up get 30. We try to gear a point towards a dollar,” Thomson said.

Bread, meat and produce do not count towards the points.

“We try to get everyone a package of meat and then, depending on availability, of what produce they like and bread too,” Thomson said.

Each individual or family has the option to pick out what they personally like.

“The last few months we’ve been averaging about 325-350 households. That is well over 1,000 people. We’ve been doing this since 2012 when we became a member of the Eastern Illinois Food Bank,” Thomson said.

They are independently owned, so it does not matter where someone is from; they can and will serve anyone.

“If you’re driving through and you’re hungry and you know about us, come get food,” Thomson said.

Volunteers are always welcome.

The Mattoon Community Food Center has been around for 35 years.

The client process starts off with a reception area where they come in and interview.

“They then get a personal interview here because a lot of them have very intimate things to say and have very personal details,” said Janet Clark, executive director of the Mattoon Community Food Center.

Many of the clients are there in hopes they can tell their story.

The individuals or families walk up to the counter and let them know how many people they have, and a specific box is brought up to them depending on the number the client gives them. 

The boxes they receive should last them up to a week, and they can stop by every 30 days. 

“We’ll never turn anybody away if they’re in trouble, but here’s how we figure it: People who are on food stamps, the government provides that and truthfully that’s going to feed a family of that size for two weeks,” Clark said. 

Most of these families have jobs, go to the Salvation Army or another pantry if they need more food. 

“In addition to the basics, they get to choose, and it might be something like a salad dressing … their kids would love Triskets, or I need a birthday cake for my boy,” Clark said. 

The clients are able to choose what produce they would like, and it all comes from local grocery stores and gardeners. 

“I personally help out at the hospital garden and we bring in huge amounts of tomatoes, peppers and cabbages,” Clark said. 

They receive most of their food by donations or the Eastern Illinois Food Bank as well. 

They hope anyone who needs assistance, Eastern students or not, will drop by. 

“We want to help them. We always encourage them to go to their local facility, but we will not turn anyone away,” Thomson said. 

Abby Lee can be reached at  581-2812 or [email protected].