Cahokia layoffs close food pantry

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CAHOKIA, IL (KPLR) – The small food bank in Cahokia, Illinois is shutting down due to the layoff of its only paid employee.  Christina Walker, the director of the Cahokia Community Basket, says she’s being fired along with nine others because they opposed the new mayor in April’s election.

Volunteers were out in force, Tuesday, helping Walker clear out the small building a block from city hall that houses the Basket.  The pantry helps feed about 1,200 people every month.  They were given four days’ notice late last week to clear the building out, meaning they had to be done by the end of the day.

“So we’ve been working non-stop since Friday to get everything up, collected and out of the building,” Walker said.

She believes her layoff is a direct result of her candidacy for the Cahokia school board in April.  The new mayor, Curtis McCall, Jr. was leading a slate of candidates for office, including Walker’s opponent.  McCall’s people won.

“I’ve not been given a reason,” said of the firing.  “I spoke with Curtis McCall yesterday in his office personally and asked why am I being put on administrative leave and the purpose of us vacating the building and he told me due to future litigation I cannot comment at this time.”

Mayor McCall is also not commenting to FOX2.  We went to the village hall seeking an interview and were told he wasn’t in.  A worker there spoke to him by phone and conveyed that he would have a statement at the village board meeting Tuesday night, and not before.

Volunteers are taken aback by the sudden closure.  Donna Chapman, who usually checks people in at the front desk, was floored.

“It was like a shock to me. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.  “And its’ gonna affect a lot of people because there are a lot of people that actually need the food.”

Representatives of the St. Louis Area Food Bank were on hand, collecting what they could to distribute to other agencies.

“It’s just, again, a very sad situation,” the food bank’s Kate Hartman told us, “especially in a community with so much need.  So to hear of something like this, it’s certainly a shock.”

Also shocking are allegations by Walker that someone has anonymously been calling other charity agencies claiming that the food being handed out belongs to the Village of Cahokia.  She says that isn’t the case.

“They won’t give a name,” she says of the mystery callers.  “They keep calling around to different organizations that I’m donating to and telling them that if they take the stuff from the food pantry that they’re going to be in trouble that it all belongs to the village.”

Others are also expected to lose their jobs after a vote by the village board on Tuesday night.  All, including Walker, are on “administrative leave” until then.  But she says she’s more concerned about those the Community Basket serves than her part time job with Cahokia.

“The thirty hours a week at twelve dollars an hour, it’s not worth crying over the paycheck. It’s worth crying over the people that are going to be missing out.”

She’s hopeful someone else will pick up her salary once she finds a new location to move the pantry to.

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