This week's Patch Portraits was produced and edited by Casey Cora, Phillip Downie and Natalie Kaplan. Check back on Mondays for the next installment.
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"This food pantry is about community, it's about everyone. It is not just about the people who come here that need food," states Cynthia Carranza, Director of the Niles Township Food Pantry. "People who are in the position to give, to help us out, believe me when I tell you it's just as important for them as it is for the person coming to get food."
When Carranza left accounting five years ago to work at the food pantry, something her fiancé's mother who previously volunteered had recommended to her, she was starting to see the effects of the downturn in the economy. "When I got here things were already beginning to fall apart." In the time she has been running the food pantry, Carranza has seen the number of people coming through the door double.
Carranza is the only full-time staff at the pantry, although she has two part-time employees and a cadre of regular volunteers. "Sometimes we have plenty, sometimes we're down a little, but we always have our core group of seven to 10 people."
Many volunteers tell Carranza that being at the food pantry is like therapy for them, and through the Recession she has seen many recently unemployed people take up work at the pantry to fill their time and lift their spirits.
"I've started doing tours for the schools recently because it's important to teach kids about giving back to the community, about how they can help and what they can do."
Carranza believes that the pantry is about bringing the community together, and helping people who are in need.