The first time Jeremy Griggs, now 34, remembers his family getting food from a food pantry he was about 4 years old.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I was with my mom and we got all this food in boxes.” Food didn’t come in boxes, he continued. It came from grocery stores. From then on he knew, if there were boxes of food at home, that food came from the pantry.
That food came from the Crisis Food Center in Alton, a United Way funded agency since 1990. Now on 21 East 6th Street, at the time the Center, which has been serving people for 34 years, was located in the basement of a church.
“I grew up in a single parent household,” Griggs said. “It was me and my brother – my other siblings were older and already moved out.
“Due to health reasons my mom couldn’t work anymore. Toward the end of the month sometimes the assistance we received wasn’t enough and food supplies were low.”
Griggs goes on to say that while they didn’t get food from the pantry every month, his mom had two growing boys to feed and she was going to make sure those boys were fed and that meant going to a food pantry.
“We weren’t a family of means, I was raised in the housing project,” Griggs said of growing up in Alton, IL.
Fast forward 30 years and Griggs is now an assistant professor of English at Lewis and Clark Community College and a board member and volunteer with Crisis Food Center.
In 2008, his colleague, Kathy White, unknowing of Griggs’ past involvement with the Center, asked him to be on the Center’s board of directors.
“Jeremy is such a good person,” White, who is also the Center’s board president, said. “He is concerned in making a difference in the lives of others and is so responsible. With his leadership skills and compassion, I knew he’d be a huge asset to the board.”
Griggs’ accepted the board position. A year later, Griggs’ work scheduled opened up and he found himself with extra time on his hands. He decided to also volunteer at the Center one day a week and has ever since.
To Griggs, the Center isn’t a building or a place, “it’s people. I don’t see what I do as a volunteer as work. To me it’s helping family. I grew up here; I know many of the people coming in.”
Griggs’ volunteer role with the Center has him in the front office, meeting with everyone who comes through the Center’s A-frame house doors. “Lots of people come in who haven’t needed assistance before. I listen to their story. I know the feelings many of the clients are having.”
“The bottom line is you have to eat. We’re here to help you,” Griggs said of the Center. “It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to say that.”
Since 2008, the Center has seen a large increase in families coming in for food. Nearly 2,000 more families came through its doors in 2011 than just three years previous. A majority of that increase has been in people age 55 and older.
“We’ve had so much increase in need, that the Center has had to make a lot of changes of what we can give out,” Griggs said. “We no longer give out sugar. It was a choice between sugar and chicken. We chose chicken.
“We get a lot of community and United Way support. Without United Way, we’d have to make many more choices and make several changes. We’re grateful for all the support we get.”
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