February is Canned Food Month, and Northern Illinois Food Bank is celebrating the occasion by highlighting this enduring staple in the quest to solve hunger.
Revered for having a long shelf life, canned foods are an important source of nutrition for families and individuals who can't afford or don't always have access to fresh food. Convenient and portable, canned foods have also long been an ideal source of donations to food drives held at schools, libraries, offices and churches.
Northern Illinois Food Bank is involved in a number of cutting edge programs designed to provide fresh produce, dairy products and meat to neighbors in need. While those initiatives have greatly expanded the food bank's ability to meet the needs of the community, there is no denying the important status canned foods still have in food banking.
"We're grateful for every canned food donation that comes through our doors," said Julie Yurko, Northern Illinois Food Bank's president and CEO. "While many of us take the convenience of canned foods for granted, they can be essential for hungry neighbors who either don't have access to refrigeration or are struggling to acquire fresh alternatives."
Most needed items
Low-sodium canned vegetables, canned fruit in juice, low-sodium soups, canned chicken and canned tuna area all mainstays on Northern Illinois Food Bank's list of most-needed food items for food drives.
One in seven people in northern Illinois face hunger, and each week Northern Illinois Food Bank provides nutritious food to more than 71,000 people through a network of 800 community food pantries and feeding programs.
Last year, more than 220,000 pounds of food were donated to Northern Illinois Food Bank through community food drives. While the majority of the food distributed by the food bank comes through donations from retailers, manufacturers and farmers, food drives do play a key role in raising awareness of the issue of hunger and helping people engage in the food bank's mission.
"Providing food to someone who may go without is something everyone can feel good about," Yurko said. "Particularly for children, putting a nutritious nonperishable item in a food drive donation box can be a powerful moment."
Virtual food drives
One way to get involved during Canned Food Month is to host a virtual food drive through Northern Illinois Food Bank's new food and fund drive website.
Like many other aspects of modern society, making sure neighbors in need have access to nutritious food can be done from the comfort of the couch by visiting www.SolveHungerToday.org/FoodandFundDrive on a computer or mobile device.
Virtual food drives provide a convenient way for donors to shop the food bank's aisle of most needed items, while also eliminating the need to collect and deliver heavy food items to the food bank's centers in Geneva, Park City and Rockford.
Groups looking to host a physical food drive are still welcome and encouraged to do so. Customizable posters and other resources are available on the food bank's new food and fund drive website, which also includes easy step-by-step instructions for hosting a fundraiser to commemorate any special occasion, from a birthday or wedding to a memorial for a loved one.
Northern Illinois Food Bank is a member of Feeding America and has been recognized by Charity Navigator as a Four-Star every year since 2003. For more information about ways to volunteer, donate and get involved at the food bank, visit www.SolveHungerToday.org.