Naperville's Loaves & Fishes expands mission, changes name
Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville hasn't been just a food pantry for years.
It's been providing job search support, school supplies and empowerment programs to help clients learn to lead self-sustaining lives for much of its three-decade history.
The nonprofit organization on Friday changed its name to match its expanded, more-than-just-food mission, and Loaves & Fishes Community Services was born.
Under the new name, the organization will do more to address childhood hunger and help people who need food overcome other barriers in their lives such as unemployment, debt, foreclosure or mental health issues, said Charles McLimans, president and CEO.
"We, together, make a difference, as demonstrated through our innovative service model that combines food assistance with multifaceted empowerment programs such as job search support, skill-based classes, public benefits assistance, nutrition and wellness programs," McLimans said Friday during the charity's seventh annual Day Without Hunger festival. "We believe that empowering more parents toward self-sufficiency through these programs is the sustainable solution to stopping child hunger in our community and raising the quality of life for all."
While beginning to celebrate the new name at the festival Friday, Loaves & Fishes officials announced they are in the midst of their first public fundraising campaign, seeking to raise a total of $6 million by the end of 2015.
The Power of Community campaign has been collecting donations "behind the scenes" since January 2013, and already has brought in $3.3 million, said George Mann, a Loaves & Fishes board member.
"Every donation we receive goes and will be counted toward the $6 million we're trying to raise," Mann said.
Money raised through the campaign will help Loaves & Fishes improve the shopping experience for clients at 1871 High Grove Lane, making a pantry visit even more like a trip to the grocery store.
"It's our goal to uphold the dignity of our clients while also reducing food waste in our community," McLimans said.
Loaves & Fishes also will create a new model for client engagement to make sure those who come because they need food are directed to services that can help improve other areas of their lives.
"Loaves & Fishes volunteers and staff will be on hand to assist and refer clients to programs they need while helping them create manageable goals so they're able to become self-sufficient," McLimans said.
The nonprofit's home base will continue to be in Naperville, where it started in 1984 out of a basement closet at St. Raphael Catholic Church. But McLimans said Loaves & Fishes also is looking for other locations across DuPage County to decrease the distance people in need must travel for food.
The pantry served 18,564 people last year from nearly 5,000 families -- a far cry from the eight families it served when Lorraine and Louis Wegerer and others at St. Raphael created it.
"We started this on a wing and a prayer," Lorraine Wegerer said as she marveled at the "wonderful" organization that has come from early efforts to assist poor families.
Hundreds who visited the pantry Friday were treated to a free barbecue and samples from restaurants such as Rock Bottom Brewery, Ranchero's Mexican Grille and Cantina and Nothing Bundt Cakes during the Day Without Hunger community festival.
As the first guests got their plates, Mayor George Pradel took the microphone and declared June 13 to be "Loaves & Fishes Community Services Day" in Naperville
"Let's stop childhood hunger together," Pradel said.