Of all the myths that surround the issue of hunger, perhaps the biggest one is that it doesn’t exist.
Such was the case when Franciscan Sister Rosemarie Burian established Bethlehem Food Center in Carol Stream in 1983. Some folks told her the food center was a solution in search of a problem. But she’d worked closely enough with local families to know the need for supplemental groceries was real. She also knew food was being dumped into landfills by manufacturers and retailers.
In its first month, the Bethlehem Food Center delivered 7,000 pounds of food. Today, what’s now known as the Northern Illinois Food Bank is among the 15 largest food banks in the nation. Thanks to a battalion of caring volunteers and donors, it provided 80 million meals last fiscal year.
“In the 13 counties that Northern Illinois Food Bank serves, there are 400,000 food-insecure neighbors, 100,000 of them children,” says Julia Jones, senior development officer. “That’s about one in every eight residents, one in every five children in northern Illinois.”
There’s no “typical” client, Jones adds. People find themselves needing a little help for all sorts of reasons.
Northern Illinois Food Bank receives about 63% of its donated food from retailers and manufacturers. It uses cash donations to purchase about 26% of its inventory, especially fresh produce.
The Food Bank also sources food from farmers, individuals, businesses and federal government commodities.
Every $1 donation buys $8 worth of food, adds Julie Yurko, president and CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Volunteers also matter. Nearly 1,000 helpers show up each week to evaluate, repack and distribute food.
Earlier this year, the food bank launched a new Food Finder map to help people connect with nearby resources. It’s mobile-friendly and has filters to show which pantries are open when.
“Our hope is that we can reach more neighbors experiencing food insecurity and help them and their families get to thriving faster,” says Yurko.
To volunteer or seek help, contact Northern Illinois Food Bank at (630) 443-6910.