The driveway of Fire Station 1 on South Park Boulevard was a hub of activity Wednesday as volunteers wearing masks filled automobile trunks with food boxes provided by the Mobile RX Food Pantry program.

Cars were lined up in parallel rows along the side the fire station, snaking behind the building to the street beyond. Orange cones formed a lane in the drive as volunteers directed cars in an orderly fashion while others moved food boxes to trunks, careful not to have physical contact with recipients.

Scott Townsend, deputy chief of the Freeport Fire Department, said that people receiving food are so polite and very thankful.

"It’s difficult for people to ask for help and it’s emotional for all of us," he added. "It’s really rewarding to be able to help in these difficult times."

The Mobile RX Food Pantry initiative is the result of collaboration between the Northern Illinois Food Bank and Freeport Health Network (FHN). Dr. Michael Perry, a retired FHN physician who is instrumental in facilitating the program, said he was amazed when they filled the final trunk at the fire station with the last of the 161 boxes of food; he was afraid they would run out.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, he said requests for food are up 50%. Most recipients are from Stephenson County, especially Freeport.

Perry said that unlike some other food pantry offerings, the boxes, which come from the Northern Illinois Food Bank headquarters in Geneva, contain healthy produce, milk, eggs, and meat. For the first time Wednesday, he noticed some dry staples included as well.

Initially the program was started to provide high-quality nutritious food twice a month to those in need and to document and track the difference it could make in their health.

Recipients had to agree to blood pressure and diabetes screening by a registered nurse and answer two questions about food security in order to receive vouchers for the food. Boxes have been distributed at St. Paul’s Church and the Lincoln Mall, but Perry said much has changed with coronavirus. For the time being, the fire station will continue to be the distribution point.

Currently, food boxes are being distributed without the screening and vouchers. Organizers are only keeping track of names, numbers in the household, asking if recipients utilize FHN for medical care and if they’ve been to a food pantry before.

Perry said most of the volunteers, who find it very rewarding to help, come from FHN or people he knows. Those who want to volunteer may call Samantha Toay at 815-599-6752.

While grants funded by large businesses like Amazon and Jewell help make the initiative possible, much-needed monetary donations may be sent to Northern Illinois Food Bank, 273 Dearborn Court., Geneva Il, 60134. To donate by phone, call 630-443-6910.

Perry asked that donors mention the Mobile RX Food Pantry with their gift. He also thanked Scott Townsend and the fire department, the health department and others who have supported the initiative.

Noting there may be some confusion since times on previous vouchers may not be valid now, Perry wants to clarify that the next distribution of food at the firehouse will be from 11 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, April 29. For more information call 815-599-6317.