Volunteers' commitment allowed food pantry to survive scandal
Things were dire in June at the Kendall County Food Pantry.
There didn't seem to be enough money to pay for utilities, and it was falling behind on payments for food bought from the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The pantry's beloved executive director quit after authorities began investigating why $200,000 seemed to be missing. So did her husband, the treasurer. Then the former director died unexpectedly of drug intoxication.
But volunteers continued showing up and the pantry stayed open, meeting its mission to help feed and clothe residents in need.
Greg Witek, the chairman of the new organization running the pantry, credits the 90-some volunteers and faithful donors.
"The reality is we could not have done it if the volunteers bailed," he said.
Even without a leader, volunteers knew their tasks and continued on, Witek said. One of them ended up serving as an interim director over the summer.
In August, a new nonprofit corporation took over the operation, including its building. And it changed the name a little, to the Kendall County Community Food Pantry.
The bills are paid and it is caught up on what it owes to vendors, Witek said. There is several months' worth of operating cash in the bank, "because we had a donor base committed to the mission," he said.
Witek, a fire chief in Little Rock Fire Protection District, had done some fundraising on behalf of the old pantry, speaking to community organizations. He and several other community leaders knew the pantry was important and should not die.
The new board includes Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, a retired judge, presidents of two villages, and a representative of the Fox Valley YMCA. It also has two longtime volunteers.
Nobody on the board is related to another, unlike the previous board, which largely comprised married couples.
The board hired a new audit firm, which set up a new accounting system and reviewed financial practices. Changes were made, including requiring two people to sign checks. The financial reports to the board are much more detailed, Witek said.
"We've set a goal to be above reproach," he said.
Witek was not involved in the day-to-day operation of the pantry until this summer.
"It's been a real eye-opener for me," he said. Even though the pantry is open to clients one day a week, volunteers are there on other days to prepare the food, such as washing donated produce the night before.
"They treat it like their full-time job," he said. "They stuck with this whole process."
He believes many of the pantry's clients don't even know anything was amiss, other than learning of the former director's death.
"The face of the food pantry," Witek said, "is unchanged."