How Loaves & Fishes in Naperville grew from helping 8 families in 1984 to 4,650 last year

  • Mike Havala, president and CEO of Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville, says the nonprofit has expanded to serve nearly 20,000 people each year with a market for grocery choice instead of a handout of standardized items. Loaves & Fishes is celebrating the 35th anniversary of when the organization started in a church basement helping eight families.

    Mike Havala, president and CEO of Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville, says the nonprofit has expanded to serve nearly 20,000 people each year with a market for grocery choice instead of a handout of standardized items. Loaves & Fishes is celebrating the 35th anniversary of when the organization started in a church basement helping eight families. Daily Herald file photo, 2016

  • Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville gets the majority of the food it distributes to people in need from making more than 110 stops at local grocers each week, picking up overstocked or excess food and diverting it from landfills to clients.

    Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville gets the majority of the food it distributes to people in need from making more than 110 stops at local grocers each week, picking up overstocked or excess food and diverting it from landfills to clients. Daily Herald file photo, 2015

 
 
Posted7/15/2019 5:36 AM

The agency that became Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville got its start in 1984 in a church basement serving eight families.

Now as one of Naperville's best-known nonprofits, Loaves & Fishes helps roughly 4,650 families a year, providing assistance to the tune of 3.8 million pounds of food, 240 health screenings, 117 budget and credit workshops, and 32 cars in 2018, for a few examples.

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Loaves & Fishes, with its 1,500 volunteers and broad service area throughout DuPage and portions of Will counties, is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

So the Daily Herald chatted with President and CEO Mike Havala for a look at what's changed and what's ahead for the agency under its mission of providing the food and resources people need to be self-sufficient. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q. What has changed in the food assistance industry?

A. Almost nothing is the same today as it was back then, other than the fact that we've got some really great people that work hard to accomplish a mission. From serving eight families, now we're up to nearly 20,000 unique individuals a year.

Many years ago it was pretty much everyone got the same prepackaged bag of limited-supply nonperishables.

Today, people get a large grocery cart of mostly healthy foods like produce and milk and eggs and yogurt. Now we have client choice. People come here, they shop and it's a true grocery shopping experience. So it adds a lot of dignity to people's situations when they don't feel they're just getting a handout; they actually feel like they're just like everyone else and they have a choice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q. Where does the food Loaves & Fishes provides to clients come from?

A. Most of our food now comes from food rescue. That means we go around with our trucks and pick up food from local grocers. We do over 110 stops a week. It's really all the places that we all shop for our groceries.

We pick up excess or overstocked food that they're willing to donate, so the food doesn't go to landfills. We get close to 2.5 million pounds of food a year that way. We also buy food at a very low cost from the Northern Illinois Food Bank. And roughly 20 percent of the food we distribute every year is donated to us directly in food drives of all sizes.

Q. The organization took on the name 'Community Services' in 2014 and merged with Naperville Cares in 2016. What do you provide other than food?

A. We have programs designed to help people become more self-sufficient in a holistic approach. We really try and help with overall health. We're also involved with health screenings. We do referrals on emotional health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We're helping to prevent homelessness with our emergency assistance programs and helping with transportation with our cars program. We have so many thousands of people walk through our doors.

They may start to come here for the food, but we have the opportunity -- maybe the obligation -- to help them in other ways.

Q. What changes are ahead?

A. We're working on setting up a virtual food drive so donors can go on our website, click on things that we'd like them to choose and buy it directly. It saves them a lot of time and it also directs people to exactly the foods that our clients need.

People may think that people who are in need don't want healthy food or they want convenience food. But the reality is they want to eat healthy just like anybody else.

Last year we opened up a satellite location in Bolingbrook, and we're looking at potentially expanding to other areas as well.

And we're looking at starting online ordering and pickup for our clients. Time is very valuable in making ends meet. If we can have them preorder online and just come and pick it up, that could be a big help.

Some clients physically have a harder time spending an hour shopping, like single parents or people with physical disabilities.

So this is almost a necessity for some.

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