Helping Others

Cahokia childhood learning center runs food pantry for needy families

Brandi Wright and other parents pick up items inside the Lighthouse Learning Center’s Little Light Food Pantry. Wright's 3-year-old son attends Lighthouse Learning Center.
Brandi Wright and other parents pick up items inside the Lighthouse Learning Center’s Little Light Food Pantry. Wright's 3-year-old son attends Lighthouse Learning Center. dholtmann@bnd.com

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of stories or informational graphics that will run daily through the holiday season, spotlighting area charities and organizations that help the needy.

Inside the brick building along Jerome Lane in Cahokia there are shelves have boxes of pasta, juice, cereal, bread, ramen noodles, peanut butter, juice and macaroni and cheese, among other items.

There are refrigerators with eggs and donated buttermilk. Freezers hold meat, including hamburger patties, that are distributed to area families.

The food fuels the Lighthouse Learning Center’s Little Light Food Pantry. The learning center opened the food pantry in April after noticing a critical need in Cahokia, said Genni Appel, the Lighthouse Learning Center site director in Cahokia.

The pantry serves about 160 families every other week. A family of two to three people leave with about $40 worth of food, and a family of four to five could leave with about $75 worth of food, Appel said.

“Cahokia is a very high poverty area and we just wanted a way to give back to our families,” Appel said.

A majority of the children who attend the Lighthouse Learning Center, an early childhood center, come from low-income families, but any family that has a child at Lighthouse can benefit from the food pantry, regardless of income, Appel said.

When the parents pick up their children on food distribution days, they receive a voucher from the teacher, which says how many people are in the family.

Cahokia is a very high poverty area and we just wanted a way to give back to our families.

Genni Appel

“We try to give them as much as we can,” said Rich Hemenway, who manages the food pantry. “This is just a supplement to what they normally buy,”

The food pantry, which is done in partnership with Hope Church in Columbia, recently received a $1,000 donation from AT&T. Operation Food Search also supplies the food pantry with items to distribute.

“We try to get rid of everything in there,” Hemenway added. “We try to empty this place out.”

The food pantry at the Lighthouse Learning Center opened a couple of months before Cahokia Community Basket was ordered closed by Village President Curtis McCall Jr., as there were allegations the pantry was poorly ran. The former director alleged she was removed because she ran for a school board seat against McCall political allies.

Appel said Lighthouse opening its own food pantry happened independently of what occurred at the community basket.

Lighthouse also has learning centers in Waterloo, Columbia and Freeburg, but the Cahokia location is the only one that has a food pantry.

Brandi Wright picked up some bread, meats, vegetables, fruit, bread and juice during a recent food distribution. Wright, who has a 3-year-old son, Elijah Davis, who attends Lighthouse, said the food that is given at the pantry is nutritious and helps her teach her son how to eat healthy.

“It’s real helpful, because sometimes food stamps don’t always last long,” Wright said. “When they help out it’s real helpful. I appreciate everything they’re doing because sometimes we run out of food.”

When Stacy Ross picked up her daughter, Addison Maier, 3, she also picked up some fruit, vegetables, hamburger patties, eggs and other things.

“It really helps,” Ross said.

When she receives food, it normally lasts about four to five meals. She said she appreciates the school running the food pantry.

“Not to say we would go without something to eat, but there might be days it would be beans and rice, instead it would be hamburgers,” Ross said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Little Light Food Pantry

Lighthouse Learning Center’s Little Light Food Pantry in Cahokia provides food twice a month to families with children at the center. A majority of the children at the center come from low-income families.

How to help

People can volunteer at the food pantry, or donate food, bags, or money to the food pantry.

Contact information

Visit lighthouselearningcenter.net or call 618-337-3555. Lighthouse Learning Center is at 1826 Jerome Lane, Cahokia, IL 62206.

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