Lake in the Hills man's school-based pantry offers year-round help
For more than 11 years, Craig Raddatz has worked with various suburban churches and food pantries to provide assistance for underprivileged families.
It led the Lake in the Hills resident to start the first school-based nonprofit food pantry in Kane and McHenry counties at Carpentersville Middle School.
In the past year, the District 300 Food Pantry has served nearly 2,300 people -- students, employees and families -- within Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300. It also has been nominated by the Northern Kane County Chamber of Commerce for Nonprofit of the Year.
"By our view, it's extremely successful," said Raddatz, 63, who works in commercial lending.
Raddatz began helping feed the hungry as a volunteer for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington as part of a team working with the Crystal Lake Food Pantry.
He later helped run mobile food pantries for The Chapel in Grayslake. Joining the church's Barrington chapter, Raddatz served as a team leader for its mobile food pantry program at three Carpentersville schools. Volunteers would set up a food truck from Geneva-based Northern Illinois Food Bank at a school site, supplying up to 275 families during the school year.
Yet, the need was so great, Raddatz approached District 300 to house a pantry on-site.
Raddatz dedicates much of his free time to helping at the District 300 pantry and managing its finances as its president. A pool of volunteers helps run it.
Its success has prompted inquiries from other suburban school districts and groups seeking to replicate what Raddatz has built.
Raddatz has met with leaders at the Kane County Regional Office of Education to share the results of the past year's operations and what it took to build the pantry.
"What we are trying to do is get the word out," Raddatz said. "If other school districts like this concept, I'm willing to go talk to them."
Open weekly, the pantry is independently managed and run by 250 volunteers, including students, who served 3,300 hours last year. The first year of operations cost roughly $42,000, primarily funded by the Rotary Club of Fox Valley Sunset.
Volunteers have distributed 3,512 gallons of milk and 101 tons of food, serving 464 registered families. The pantry has provided 243,362 meals feeding 2,295 people, of whom more than half are children. Participation has been highest at Carpentersville Middle School, Dundee-Crown High School, and Golfview and Lakewood elementary schools, all in Carpentersville.
Raddatz also organized three mobile pantries, sending food-filled trucks to Perry, Dundee-Crown and Lakewood over the summer.
"The District 300 Food Pantry provides an essential resource for our community," Superintendent Fred Heid said. "With more than 20,000 children enrolled in District 300 and over 40 percent qualifying for free and reduced meals, the food pantry has delivered on its promise to support the District 300 community. I am incredibly proud of the work our food pantry has accomplished and I look forward to providing these useful resources to our community for years to come."
Volunteers pack and deliver boxes of food to schools for single parents to pick up or make emergency home deliveries in case of illness or need. The pantry partners with Centro de Información in Elgin to offer on-site services, such as help with résumé building, job search and legal advice, and other organizations offering free health services such as flu shots and dental checkups.
Raddatz also has formed a student advisory board with representatives from each of District 300's three high schools to encourage involvement.
"We don't want to just be a food pantry and give temporary relief," Raddatz said.
Response to the pantry's Christmas stockings for families program has been overwhelming, with a flood of donations coming in.
Up to 300 families will be given stockings stuffed with goodies this holiday season. Another of its efforts to provide birthday presents for children and their adult family members has grown and been taken over by community groups.
"We are getting outside organizations now putting those packages together," Raddatz said. "It has gotten so popular. That's a goal accomplished, where we get communities involved."
While Raddatz is grooming leaders who can take over the mantle and seeking corporate donors to help pay the bills, his vision for the pantry isn't complete yet.
"I don't feel we've gotten to all the families we have in District 300," he said. "The objective is to make this long-term sustainable."