Algonquin second-grader named 'Hunger Hero' for raising $3,300 for food pantry
Ask Leo Bonilla why he decided to help the D300 Food Pantry and the 8-year-old boy offers a simple explanation: It was easy, and he knew it would help people.
The second-grader from Neubert Elementary School in Algonquin, sprung into action in late 2020 after seeing a news video of people waiting in long lines. When his mother explained that the people in line were waiting for food, the Algonquin boy wanted to help.
"He saves his change in a little change jar and asked, 'What if I can give my change in my change jar to them?'" his mother, Casey, recalled.
His change jar had $22, which grew to $66 when his mother and father matched his donation. Other relatives offered to match as well and, eventually, Casey and Leo created a video with Leo asking people to support the D300 Food Pantry.
"He held up his bag of change and said, 'I'm going to donate 22 of my own dollars,'" Casey recalled, adding he then asked others to join in to help.
That first fundraising campaign, in late 2020, was open for 10 days and raised $1,700. With $36 saved in his change jar a year later, Leo embarked on his second annual fundraiser for the food pantry and raised $1,600 late last year.
"I knew it was the right thing to do," Leo said of donating his money after seeing the video.
On Thursday, Leo was presented with the D300 Food Pantry Hunger Hero Award at the organization's annual board meeting.
In the past, Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300's schools have competed for the Hunger Hero award by hosting food drives to benefit the D300 Food Pantry, which serves families in the schools but is not directly tied to the district. But the food drive competition was put on hold due to COVID restrictions.
"From our perspective (the donations) mean a lot to us since it's a good deal of money," said Leslie LaMarca, executive director of the D300 Food Pantry. "There's a lot of other things he could've chosen, but he chose to make hungry kids his passion, and that's clearly what we're all about."
Though the award was fun to show off to classmates on Friday, Leo said he was happy to help.
"I'm really happy that more people have food now," he said.
For the food pantry, Leo's efforts mean more than $3,300. For every $1 the food pantry spends, it gets $8 in food, because it buys from the Northern Illinois Food Bank, where donations keep costs down. So a donation of $3,300 becomes more than $25,000 in food to help area families.
The D300 Food Pantry serves about 75 to 80 families a week.
Leo plans to continue his efforts. This spring, he's planning another donation drive to benefit the D300 food pantry. This time he'll be asking people in his neighborhood to leave out donations of nonperishable items and he'll pick them up to donate to the food pantry.
His teacher already has expressed an interest in joining the next food drive, Casey Bonilla said.
For additional information about the D300 Food Pantry, visit d300foodpantry.org.