Union Food Pantry volunteers are gearing up for a major food drive that is much needed to help fill the pantry shelves.

The second annual Franklin County Hunger Task Force food drive will be held Saturday, July 28, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at participating grocers.

The countywide drive will benefit food pantries involved with the task force.

Ken Lingle, with the Union pantry, said this drive comes at a great time because resources are scarce this time of year, and the number of people who use the pantry continues to grow.

“With the economy as bad as it is, and when school is out the demand grows,” he said. “We get more and more people every time we open — at least two to three new families.”

Lingle said the pantry serves about 20-30 families each day it is, and those families generally receive about $100 worth of food per visit.

“It’s a minimum of $2,000 each day we are open,” he added.

Participating stores include Fink’s and Fricks in Union; Schnucks, Walgreens and Wal-Mart in Washington; Country Mart and Save-A-Lot in St. Clair; Wal-Mart; and Wal-Mart in Eureka and Sullivan.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Lingle said. “Basically we are trying to help all of the Franklin County pantries, but what we get in Union stays in Union.”

Suggested items include boxed pasta, rice, canned potatoes, cereal, oatmeal, canned meats, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, soups, sauces, zip-lock bags, dessert mixes, toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap — both hand and body, shampoo, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies and feminine products.

Each station will collect financial donations as well.

The drive is a collaboration between the Franklin County Hunger Task Force and Operation Food Search.

Families needing assistance are invited to call the food pantry for assistance at 636-584-7050.

Food can be dropped off between 2-4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, or by appointment. Call Lingle at 636-583-4042 to schedule an appointment.

There are food pantry donation boxes at many local churches. Contributions of grocery items can also be taken directly to the food pantry at 115 Locust St., Union. Contributions of cash can be mailed to the Union Food Pantry, at the Union Ministerial Alliance, P.O. Box 101, Union, MO 63084.

Union Food Pantry has served the Union and Villa Ridge ZIP codes since 1994. It shares with other area food pantries and receives support from the United Way. The facilities are donated, and it uses only unpaid volunteers. Monetary donations are used to purchase perishable items, such as meat. Nearly 100 percent of donations go directly to serve those in need.

Many volunteers generously donate time to the food pantry to mark food expiration dates, stock shelves, staff the facility, distribute pantry items to families, and purchase food.

In 2010, the Union Food Pantry provided food for 1,514 families in the Union and Villa Ridge ZIP codes.

Since 1994, the number of families who are helped by the Union Food Pantry has increased by over 900 from 611.

Today there are more than 4,300 people who receive help, including over 2,500 adults and 1,600 children. That is compared to a total of 2,000 people in 1994 when there were 1,052 adults and 948 children who were aided by the pantry.