'It changes lives': Alton emergency pantry providing food, clothing to families in need

4 months 14 hours 40 minutes ago Tuesday, January 25 2022 Jan 25, 2022 January 25, 2022 10:15 AM January 25, 2022 in News - Local

The Alton Recreation Center is now a hub for food and clothing.

The concept of an emergency pantry isn’t new, but it’s something that hasn’t been offered before within the city.

“We don’t have to be a gigantic pantry,” said Alton Community Services Director Samm Mercado. “What we have right now is very small, but it’s enough to serve those that are in need right now.”

Jianna Gonzalez with the Alton Police Department says the program was originally intended for victims of crime, but after seeing the need that existed, it was soon expanded to everyone.

“We need to make sure they keep their dignity,” Gonzalez said. “We need to make sure that these people know that we’re here, and that we’re going to do anything that we can to help them.”

Young parents Maricruz Taylor and Jorge Santiago had been struggling after both found themselves out of a job.

“We were losing hope already,” Taylor said. “We were feeling like — not failures, you know, but like we weren’t doing what we should be doing.”

Santiago says he knows the tattoos on his face will make getting a job that more difficult. Though he regrets that decision he made at the age of 13, he’s trying to move forward.

“I really wish I could’ve take that back, but since I can’t, I try to do the best I can, because I want my kids to know — even though you’re not perfect, you could still be a good person for yourself or for your family,” Santiago said.

The two had been working together doing yard work to help support themselves until a family member suggested they reach out to the city for help. The couple is now getting the food and clothing they need not only for themselves, but their toddler and 1-month-old son. With Taylor now employed, and Santiago hearing back from one employer, the parents say the support they received here is giving them the push they needed.

“It does change lives,” Taylor said. “Especially when — even little gestures like a little outfit here and there, the food — they help a lot with food — they help a lot of people in need. It’s — it changes lives. Every little thing. It helps.”

Those who are interested in assisting can donate gently used clothing or canned goods. For more information, call the Alton Recreation Center at 956-432-0790. 

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