A 15 percent increase in demand at the West Deerfield Township Food Pantry this year is a clear indication the economy has not begun to improve for many local residents.
Demand has grown between 12 and 15 percent annually since the economic downturn began in 2008 and has not shown signs of abating, according to West Deerfield Township Supervisor Julie Morrison.
Long a source of help for older residents who need a little assistance to remain in the community, the pantry has become a lifeline for families struggling with unemployment and mortgage payments, Morrison said.
“We’ve always had our seniors but we’ve had a lot more families lately,” she said. Though any township resident whose income is below three times the national poverty rate (of $20,000 per year) qualifies, Morrison said she goes out of her way to help.
“If someone comes in here and really needs help, we won’t turn them away,” Morrison said. “We’re here to give some hope to those who really need it.”
Sometimes the highest hurdle for those in need is summoning the courage to avail themselves of the pantry and other forms of assistance in the first place. A few walk through the door. Others are referred by the Deerfield Police Department or local clergy.
“It’s embarrassing for someone who has never needed help to come in here and ask for it,” Morrison said. “After they show up it gets a little easier.”
Typical Recipients Changing
A typical situation growing more common is a family with one source of income suddenly lost, according to Morrison. The person sees work savings dwindle and mortgage payments become harder. The drop in real estate prices since 2008 leaves no equity in many homes.
When faced with this situation, Morrison can turn into a job counselor as well as opening the doors of the Food Pantry. The depository remains well stocked because of the efforts of community members who donate.
“A (professional) man came in here who had the same job for 15 years and lost it,” Morrison said. “He did not know how to look for a job. He had no idea about LinkedIn or Monster.”
In situations like this, Morison does what counseling she can and then refers people to places like the Career Resource Center in Lake Forest or Jewish Vocational Services in Northbrook for more in-depth help.
Once there, people like Linda Wolfe, director of career development and placement at Jewish Vocational Services, guide those who have not had to seek employment for years through a modern job search.
“Looking for a job is a full-time job,” Wolfe said. “You have to create the brand that is you and market your brand.”
The New World of Job Seeking
Many people come to Wolfe hoping to update their resume, look at help wanted ads online or in the newspaper, send a few off, wait for interviews and find the next job. Sometimes it takes a while before she can help them understand it does not work that way anymore.
“There are 40,000 job websites in the United States and 100,000 worldwide,” Wolfe said. Part of her job is getting people focused in the right place. “There are 300 to 500 resumes for every job.”
Wolfe teaches people how to use networking skills to do everything they can to have their resume noticed among the many submitted. She maintains 85 percent of all jobs come from networking.
“You look at LinkedIn to see who you know who works there (at the perspective employer),” Wolfe said. Calling someone who has a connection to the person making the hiring decision is critical. “That’s what gets you to the top of the (resume) pile.”
Another person who recognizes the importance of networking is Deerfield barber Elias Otero of Otero’s Barber Shop. Each Wednesday he offers free haircuts to the unemployed in exchange for a resume. He places them in a binder for those looking to hire to peruse.
“Looking good is part of what you need,” Otero said. His program began Nov. 30 and has already produced some success.
With the holidays at hand, Morrison wants to remind everyone in the community this is a special time to donate. “Please be generous to those not as fortunate as you this holiday season,” she said.