Event helps Northern Illinois Food Bank solve hunger

 
 
Updated 2/27/2017 6:26 AM
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  • Nancy Conley, left, and Karen Golden co-chair the Executive Women's Council of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The council will host the second annual A Cup of Hope to support the food bank's food and nutrition programs serving 13 counties.

    Nancy Conley, left, and Karen Golden co-chair the Executive Women's Council of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The council will host the second annual A Cup of Hope to support the food bank's food and nutrition programs serving 13 counties. Courtesy of Northern Illinois Food Bank

  • Northern Illinois Food Bank uses two Mobile Pantry trucks to help distribute food directly to families in need.

    Northern Illinois Food Bank uses two Mobile Pantry trucks to help distribute food directly to families in need. Courtesy of the Northern Illinois Food Bank

  • Volunteers sort and organize food donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank from manufacturers and retailers.

    Volunteers sort and organize food donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank from manufacturers and retailers. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Northern Illinois Food Bank supports pantries in several schools to help ensure students and families have access to meals.

    Northern Illinois Food Bank supports pantries in several schools to help ensure students and families have access to meals. Courtesy of Northern Illinois Food Bank

  • Volunteers staff Northern Illinois Food Bank's Mobile Pantries, which offer fresh and perishable items at sites throughout its 13-county service area.

      Volunteers staff Northern Illinois Food Bank's Mobile Pantries, which offer fresh and perishable items at sites throughout its 13-county service area. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer, APRIL 2016

"What's for dinner?"

Our kids ask. Our spouse asks. We ask ourselves.

On a good day, we have a plan -- recipe, groceries and time to prepare. On an off day, we stare at the pantry or into the fridge hoping inspiration will strike -- and when it doesn't, we dash to the store or zip through the drive-through.

But for our neighbors who can't afford grocery trips and takeout, the question is much more complicated.

What do you make for dinner when the pantry is empty? How can you keep your kids healthy if they're not eating regularly? Would you be better off skipping the utility bills or passing on the prescription to pay for groceries?

It's those questions that motivate Nancy Conley to work to ensure no one in the suburbs struggles with hunger.

Conley serves as co-chair of the Executive Women's Council of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The council works to engage more women in the food bank's cause of solving hunger by providing meals for those in need in 13 counties, stretching from Kankakee to the Wisconsin border and from Lake Michigan west to Freeport.

Just last year, the Northern Illinois Food Bank distributed more than 60 million meals through a network of partnerships. The food bank works with food companies, retailers and even farmers to collect both perishable and nonperishable food that is distributed through partnerships with 800 local pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and youth and senior centers, as well as through the food bank's child nutrition programs, senior food program and mobile pantry trucks.

To support the Northern Illinois Food Bank, the women's council is hosting the second annual A Cup of Hope: A Garden Tea to Solve Hunger Sunday, March 5, in Naperville. The menu features an "extensive and descriptive selection of loose teas," Conley said, and guests will hear about the latest tips and trends in gardening.

In advance of the event, Conley tells us more about the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Q. What is your organization's mission?

A. Our mission is to lead the Northern Illinois community in solving hunger by providing nutritious meals to those in need through innovative programs and partnerships.

Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

A. We work to secure funds from individuals, corporations, foundations and other organizations. We also secure donations of food from retailers and manufacturers, and we raise funds and awareness through events including A Cup of Hope, Foodie 5K, A Taste That Matters, Hunger Golf Scramble and Stars and Cars.

Q. Who do you serve?

A. Northern Illinois Food Bank serves nearly 600,000 hungry neighbors annually across our 13-county service area of Boone, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will and Winnebago counties.

Q. When and why did the food bank start? How has it grown?

A. Northern Illinois Food Bank began as a dream of Sister Rosemarie Burian who, one morning in 1982, had an idea to open a center for the poor in DuPage County. From that idea, Bethlehem Center was born. She distributed the first food in May 1983. In Bethlehem Center's first full year of operation, 64,000 pounds of food were distributed through 80 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

Over 30 years, the food bank's name has changed, its address has changed, and staff has changed. The one thing that has remained consistent is our commitment to feeding our hungry neighbors. Today, we partner with more than 800 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other feeding programs in Northern Illinois to provide nutritious meals to nearly 600,000 people every year.

Q. What kind of successes have you had?

A. Each year, we get closer to solving hunger in Northern Illinois. In 2016, the food bank was able to distribute 62.5 million meals, including 2.5 million meals to children and more than 170,000 meals to seniors. In part to get to that goal, we rescued 32.4 million pounds of food through our food recovery program and distributed nearly 167,000 gallons of fresh milk. We could not have had such great success without the 31,000 volunteers who provided more than 155,000 volunteer hours throughout the year.

Q. What challenges does the food bank currently face?

A. As Northern Illinois Food Bank moves closer to its strategic goal of distributing 75 million meals annually, we have to be increasingly focused on getting the food to the areas where we know there is additional need.

Q. What do you wish the community at large knew about hunger and the food bank?

A. Hunger is here, and hunger is real. One in seven people in Northern Illinois and one in five kids do not have access to food for every meal. That means your neighbors are facing hunger. We believe that, together, we can solve hunger in Northern Illinois by providing every meal, every day for every hunger neighbor.

Q. How can readers get involved?

A. Readers can visit solvehungertoday.org to learn how they can volunteer, donate and get involved. Not only do we have weekly volunteer opportunities, we have annual events that need the support of the community.

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