Elgin gives $150K emergency loan to food pantry

  • Food For Greater Elgin got a $150,000 emergency loan from the city of Elgin when it faced a cash shortfall and increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Food For Greater Elgin got a $150,000 emergency loan from the city of Elgin when it faced a cash shortfall and increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/23/2020 6:04 PM

Faced with a double-whammy -- a grant that didn't come through plus increased need due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- Food for Great Elgin got a lifesaving $150,000 emergency loan from the city of Elgin.

"What the city gave us with the loan is the assurance that, 'Yeah, we are going to be here, at least through the crisis,'" said Michael Montgomery, the food pantry's interim executive director.


The nonprofit expects to serve about 600 families weekly, up from 500 pre-pandemic, Montgomery said.

The pantry is open Monday to Thursday to the general public and has added noon to 2 p.m. hours on Fridays for seniors only. It started serving students of Elgin Community College after the campus closed along with its food pantry, and is supplying the police department with food for emergency calls, Montgomery said.

The zero-interest loan is repayable at $6,250 monthly starting in April 2021, he said.

Montgomery started the job Jan. 20 and took over from Shelia Jackson, who left in February. Jackson did a great job of enhancing client service and increasing programs, but the cash base for the $400,000 nonprofit "has been getting just a little worse every month for a long time," mostly due to dwindling donors, he said.

Also, a deadline was missed last year to apply for a $15,000 grant that normally comes in February, always a tight month, he said.

"Last week, everything was suddenly hitting us in the face at the same time," Montgomery said. "We had two weeks' worth of cash to make payroll but we needed to raise money for the next payroll."

The loan came after the food pantry's board chairman Mike Warren met with Mayor David Kaptain.

"It's something that just had to be done," Kaptain said. "When people are being sent home from work, and many of them are living paycheck to paycheck, the situation is going to get critical pretty quickly."

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The city established the emergency loan program during the 2016 state budget crisis, and it was used by three social service agencies that year.

Kaptain was able to quickly authorize the loan for the food pantry, without formal city council approval, thanks to his expanded authority after a local state of emergency declaration earlier this month. The council agrees the food pantry is vital to the community, Kaptain said.

Montgomery praised the speedy work of city staff members. The money came from the city's reserves, spokeswoman Molly Gillespie said.

Businesses also have stepped up donations, such as a sizable check from John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. and eight pallets of food from Grand Victoria Casino, Montgomery said.

The food pantry also needs more volunteers because its senior volunteers have to take precautions and stay home due to COVID-19. The pantry has implemented daily sanitation, no drive-by pick up and social distancing.

Anyone interested can contact volunteer coordinator Mike Kuhn at (224) 242-3375, mkuhn@ffge.org or sign up online at ffge.org/volunteer.


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