ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Prices of groceries are up 8% compared to this time last year, prompting the Voices of Inspiration and the Northern Illinois Food Bank to offer free necessities to Rockford’s needy residents.

“What are your options? To cut back and eat ramen every day? Or come here and receive something that is nutritious?” asked resident Dawn Johnson, who thanked dozens of volunteers who were loading up cars with grocery bags on Thursday.

“With gas prices and food prices, people can’t make it from paycheck to paycheck anymore,” she said.

Johnson is one of the hundreds who picked up fresh food today.

“Some people come up with tears in their eyes and leave with a smile,” said Voices of Inspiration founder and CEO, Vivian Lott. “That’s the most important thing.”

Voices of Inspiration describes itself as a food pantry made up of “neighbors helping neighbors,” and it is located at 3112 N. Rockton Avenue, open 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Fridays.

Freddy Cruz said he used to donate canned foods to the pantry and has now found himself on the receiving line.

“I went to the grocery store myself…and the meat is [priced high.] I left it. I didn’t even buy it, because it was too high,” he said.

Meat prices are up 20%, while fish, eggs, milk, chicken, and bacon have all seen double-digit price hikes, causing some to skip the fresh food and resort only to frozen and canned goods.

“[In the] last month, we have had to go out and buy meat, literally go to the stores and buy meat, because we haven’t had any meat [at the pantry,]” Lott said. “People are rolling through. The pandemic has put a lot of people in a struggle.”

To save money, experts advise shoppers to avoid impulse buys, buy generic, and use a loyalty card to get some cash back.