Subaru, Aurora pantry 'Share the Love'

 
 
Updated 3/28/2017 12:50 PM
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The Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry distributed roughly 3.5 million pounds of food last year to nearly 23,000 different people in need.

Providing that much food for that many people can be a challenge for any organization, and the Aurora pantry is no different.

So when Executive Director Marilyn Weisner learned last fall that Naperville-based Gerald Subaru had selected the pantry as its local charity for the company's national Share the Love campaign, she was thrilled.

And she was even more thrilled last week when the bosses at Gerald presented pantry staff members with an oversized check for $48,760.

Because the pantry can parlay every dollar it receives into $7 worth of food, the donation will generate right around $341,000 worth of milk and eggs and produce and staples for people who otherwise might go hungry.

"It's just incredible," Weisner says. "It's just an amazing donation."

Share the Love

Subaru's Share the Love campaign started in November and continued through the start of the year.

The rules were pretty simple: The corporation agreed to donate $250 to charity for every new vehicle either leased or purchased. Car buyers had the option of having the money donated to one or more of four national charities selected by the company or to a local charity chosen by the dealership.

In this case, the guys running Gerald Subaru -- owner Doug Gerald and general manager Alec McKean -- chose the pantry as their local recipient.

The dealer raised about $38,000 through car sales and leases and then announced it would kick in another $10,000 on its own.

McKean says he got to know about the pantry a year or so ago through a friend, and the dealership already had undertaken some smaller fundraising efforts on its behalf -- including one over the summer that raised about $20,000.

But the Share the Love campaign was even more successful because both his staff and his customers bought into the idea that earmarking money for the pantry would directly benefit the community.

"This was huge," McKean said. "We didn't think it would be this large of a donation."

"They just went to town with the campaign," Weisner says.

Food for everyone

The Aurora pantry first opened its doors in 1981 and this is Weisner's ninth year at the helm.

She and her husband, former mayor Tom Weisner, spent some of their early years as members of the Peace Corps working in Third World countries where they learned just how important nutrition can be.

"The idea of everyone getting enough food appealed to me," she says.

When she looked around Aurora and parts of Kane County, she says, the thought that "someone in our country and our community didn't have access to enough food just didn't seem right."

The pantry started, as many do, in cramped quarters, but moved into its new building at 1110 Jericho Road in 2013. It operates with six staff members and nearly 500 volunteers.

Weisner says 35 people are on hand for distribution days -- scheduled for 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays -- to handle countless duties that range from stocking shelves to helping people carry food to their vehicles.

She says the pantry is hoping to install lights in its parking lot, with an eye toward offering evening distribution hours so more of the working poor can take advantage of the service.

That's the real kicker, she says.

Roughly half the people who use the pantry are working, but "people just don't make enough money to cover all their living expenses."

Client's choice

If you're going to distribute 3.5 million pounds of food, it has to come from somewhere and the Aurora pantry mines three major sources.

First, and maybe most importantly, it works with stores that are willing to donate food they know they won't sell.

The food is perfectly good, Weisner says, and still under its freshness date. But if a grocer has over-ordered, say, yogurt, pantry volunteers are invited to collect the extras.

Volunteers make 40 trips a week to stores such as Jewel, Mariano's and Wal-Mart to stock their shelves.

Second, the pantry depends on businesses, schools and other groups to conduct food drives that usually provide canned goods and other staples.

Finally, the pantry works closely with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which provides food at "significant discounts."

Once all that food is collected, the pantry gives its clients the chance to visit once a week and select what they need and want. They can walk through the pantry's market and check out the walk-in coolers and the produce and bread sections.

Weisner says that "client's choice" approach is more effective than simply handing someone a bag full of groceries because it allows them to pick items they'll actually eat.

Just as importantly, she says, "it treats people with dignity and treats people with respect."

And because people can visit once a week, she says, the food is available "when the need arises."

The Subaru donation will help ensure that program can continue.

"We have wonderful community support," Weisner says, "and this just demonstrates that."

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