BLOOMINGTON — The closing of Clare House food pantry in November hasn't meant a food shortage for people in need.

"There were enough food pantries in the community to collaboratively be able to absorb the people who went to Clare House," said Carolann Carara, Home Sweet Home Ministries' hospitality services director.

"The community is handling the demand," added Pat Turner, outreach director for Center for Hope Food Pantry Network. Turner credited Clare House Founder and Director Tina Sipula with giving Clare House recipients lists of the 15 other food pantries in Bloomington-Normal and credited other organizations for stepping up.

"As a whole, the community has a way of coming together and people still are being served," said Jackie Dunson, food pantry coordinator at Western Avenue Community Center.

Clare House, 703 E. Washington St., Bloomington, closed in November after Sipula retired. Clare House, among the area's busier food pantries with 120 to 150 bags of food distributed each week, opened in 1978.

Clare House also sponsored Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen at St. Mary's Church but the soup kitchen remains open under the sponsorship of six Catholic parishes.

Center for Hope experienced an increase in clients in November and December. "Our numbers certainly shot up for November," Turner said.

"Was it because of Clare House closing? Was it because of our new location?" asked Turner, noting that Center for Hope opened its Empire Street location in the fall.

"I think it was both," she said. In addition, some new clients had worked at Mitsubishi Motors North America, which stopped production in the fall.

"We have been able to meet the increased need thanks to some additional gifts," she said. "We live in a really good community where people respond."

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"Those who need food can get it," Turner said. "We (the food pantries) are continuing to work to make sure our options are increasingly healthy."

Home Sweet Home shifted its food pantry two years ago to a food co-op in which members may shop in the food pantry for up to $150 in groceries for every two hours they work at Home Sweet Home.

"We want people to work to have the same dignity as other people," Carara said. "Now, instead of coming here for a box of food, people come here to help, to support each other, to build relationships. We have 350 members, which is about the same number of people who used the food pantry."

Since Clare House closed, the food co-op has increased by about two dozen members, she said. "We can handle the increase."

Carara had thought the impact would be greater. "But there are a lot of food pantries."

Western Avenue has experienced a small increase in visitors, Dunson said.

"There isn't a shortage of food," Dunson said. "Our concern now is that some people don't realize the food pantries aren't just for people on food stamps. They are for anyone having difficulty putting food on the table."

The Salvation Army of McLean County's food pantry has experienced no impact so far of Clare House closing, said Development Director Angie Fulton. For example, the pantry experienced 271 orders in January, about typical for that month.

"But that's not to say we won't experience an increase later," she said.

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