Leaders of the Northern Illinois Food Bank say the organization provides about 50 million meals a year to hungry people all over the suburban areas it serves.
That's good, they say, but not nearly good enough.
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The Geneva-based organization wants to increase the number of meals it provides to 75 million annually by 2020. Reaching that level would close a "meal gap" that exists in the group's service area, said Julie Yurko, the food bank's president and CEO.
"Our goal is to get food to each one of our hungry neighbors," Yurko said during a meeting last week with the Daily Herald editorial board.
There's a sense of urgency behind the group's growth efforts. A 2014 study titled "Hunger In America," conducted by the hunger-relief charity Feeding America, showed that hunger continues to be a serious problem in the food bank's service area, Yurko said. And the problem affects people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
For instance, the study showed that 77 percent of the households struggling with hunger include a person who has been gainfully employed during the previous 12 months.
"So you're talking about people who are working but still can't provide an adequate amount of food for their families," Yurko said. "That's important to realize."
The study also showed that people struggling with hunger often are forced into terrible trade-offs, like delaying the purchase of needed medication in order to get meals on the table.
"The idea of that is shocking to me, both as the leader of the Food Bank and as a mom," Yurko said.
The agency also found that while it is doing a good job of serving communities where the need is well-known, such as Waukegan and North Chicago, it needs to find a way to increase availability of food in affluent communities like Highland Park and Deerfield, where hunger is present but more hidden.
Reaching the goal of 75 million meals won't be easy, Yurko acknowledged. Most of the food that the Food Bank distributes is donated by manufacturers, retailers, corporations and individuals. Increasing the number of meals the group provides means getting more donations of food and money.
With that in mind, the Food Bank is working hard to partner with new donors and raise awareness about the problem of hunger.
"We rely heavily on the goodness of others," Yurko said. "So we're trying to spread the word about how many of our neighbors need food assistance and the role we play in addressing that need."
The Food Bank serves a sprawling area of about 7,000 square miles in 13 northern Illinois counties, including Lake, DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties.
For information about the food bank, go to solvehungertoday.org.