A busy assembly line buzzed Saturday morning inside the Northern Illinois Food Bank's warehouse in Geneva, as more than 100 volunteers prepared some of the first holiday meal boxes of the season.
Packed with green beans, peaches, mashed potatoes, coffee, stuffing and cake mix, and paired with a 12- to 14-pound turkey, the 26-pound meal kits can serve eight and will be distributed throughout the area this month and next.
"The purpose is to put together boxes of food for our families in need because we are serving 13 counties," said Julie Yurko, vice president of philanthropy and communications for the food bank. "At this time, we know our families are especially struggling."
The food bank aims to distribute more than 30,000 meal boxes this holiday season, so as many of us are baking cookies and planning family feasts, those who cannot afford enough food also can eat a nice meal, Yurko said.
"We want to alleviate some of that stress," she said.
Helping with Saturday's meal packing effort were more than 100 volunteers from Jewel-Osco, including the company's vice president of merchandising, Doug Cygan of Gurnee.
Cygan said he has volunteered to pack holiday meals for the food bank for about eight years, bringing his 17-year-old son, Mitch, along each time.
"This is really about feeding people on both sides of the spectrum," Cygan said.
As a grocery store chain, Jewel-Osco sells food to those who can afford it, but "this also provides to the less fortunate," he said.
The company also helps by donating edible items to the food bank, with last year's donations totaling 7 million pounds, Yurko said. But Cygan said the most rewarding part is seeing the recipients of the charitable holiday effort,
"It's riveting when you see the food be handed out," he said. "It's just something that resonates."
Holiday meal boxes will be ordered by the 700 local food pantries, senior centers and other organizations that partner with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Yurko said. Meals then will be distributed to users of each local service.
"It's good to see that our hard work is paying off, that we're actually helping people," Mitch Cygan said.