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July 11th, 2014

What does it mean to be a food stamp recipient? The political landscape has been split in discussions ranging from program abuse to the perpetuation of poverty. It is a hotly debated topic (for more debate insight, check out this blog; however, when you consider who receives this public benefit assistance, what type of person comes to mind? Would you think of a college-educated, former television producer who grew up in the affluent suburbs?

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to people like me.”

As Loaves & Fishes works to provide assistance to what is known as one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, many skeptics question the clients we serve and their “need.” It is common that we will see an expensive car pull into our parking lot or see a client pull the latest iPhone out of their purse to answer a call. In Darlena Cunha’s experience, these material things don’t paint the full picture.

“That’s the funny thing about being poor. Everyone has an opinion on it, and everyone feels entitled to share. That was especially true about my husband’s Mercedes. Over and over again, people asked why we kept that car, offering to sell it in their yards or on the Internet for us.

“And even if we had wanted to do that, here’s what people don’t understand: The reality of poverty can spring quickly while the psychological effects take longer to surface. When you lose a job, your first thought isn’t, “Oh my God, I’m poor. I’d better sell all my nice stuff!” It’s “I need another job. Now.” When you’re scrambling, you hang on to the things that work, that bring you some comfort. That Mercedes was the one reliable, trustworthy thing in our lives.”

Darlena’s story provides incredible insight about the perceptions of poverty from the inside and outside. Click here to read the full blog article.

July 2nd, 2014

It has been a busy week at Loaves & Fishes so far. After being featured in Harry Porterfield’s “Someone You Should Know” segment on CBS2 last week, we received many calls from potential clients seeking information about our programs. The result: we served 729 people on Tuesday, including 292 children! While this doesn’t break our record, it does demonstrate the growing need for our services in the western suburbs of Chicago.

For some people, like Leslie Brown, blogger for Unhyphenated America, watching the coverage on CBS was an eye-opening experience. “I forget sometimes, as we all do at times, to be grateful for what I have, and not perseverate about what I don’t have. Comparison is the ‘thief of joy.’”

As Loaves & Fishes celebrates 30 years of service, it is the future of our organization that matters the most. While our low-income neighbors need food assistance to meet their immediate hunger needs, there are barriers that must be addressed to help them become self-sufficient. Loaves & Fishes is dedicated to helping our clients overcome these barriers by providing coordinated, multi-faceted services that empower them. So as we enter a new era for our organization, we hope that you will Share the Joy of Loaves & Fishes with those you know because it is hard for some to imagine the need in our community and understand how they can be part of the solution. And for others that may be in need of our services, they may not know that help is right here.

For Leslie Brown’s full blog post, click here.

June 27th, 2014

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DWH-thankyou_adIt was a perfect day, surprisingly, for Friday the 13th, which created the perfect setting for Loaves & Fishes’ Day Without Hunger celebration. Day Without Hunger, which began 7 years ago as a 24-hour event, is an opportunity for community members to learn about food insecurity and Loaves & Fishes’ innovative service model that seeks to solve this issue. Each year, the event has seen greater success as demonstrated by the number of guests as well as business partners and sponsors. We were honored to collaborate with so many businesses and individuals to make this year’s event possible.

This year’s event was particularly memorable because it kicked off Loaves & Fishes 30th year anniversary and brought out some big announcements about our future:

Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry is now Loaves & Fishes Community Services, and to launch this new era, we have announced our $6 million Power of Community Campaign! It is our first public fundraising campaign ever, and we are excited to see our community of supporters grow as we seek expansion opportunities.

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Photo Credit: Robyn Sheldon, Naperville Magazine

Two weeks after these big announcements, Loaves & Fishes celebrated Night to End Hunger at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn. Thanks to the incredible support of our guests, we raised $267,650 that night, which raises our Power of Community campaign total to $3,558,283, representing 59% of our $6 million goal!

Whether soaking up break taking views, feasting on fine organic dining or enjoying live music, guest engagement was the catalyst for the success of Night to End Hunger, chaired by Celeste Wagner, Loaves & Fishes board member. Individuals and local businesses donated items including lavish getaway packages, appetizing dinner pairings and even activities for thrill-seekers, such as a fighter jet ride and fleet car experience that were featured in a live auction and choice raffle. After these items were purchased and won, auctioneer Bart Darfler rallied donations through a “Raise the Paddle” special appeal, which alone raised $63,250.

We can’t wait to see what the rest of our 30th year anniversary brings!

May 13th, 2014

Donation boxes lined the warehouse and distribution center after Stamp Out Hunger.

Donation boxes lined the warehouse and distribution center after Stamp Out Hunger.

It was astounding. By the end of Monday, Loaves & Fishes received over 80,000 pounds of groceries through the National Letter Carriers Association annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive. This is the single largest food drive in the history of Loaves & Fishes. To give you an idea of what 80,000 pounds of groceries look like:

  • 2,000 full paper grocery bags (The average paper bag can hold approximately 40 lbs)
  • Two (2) 53′ semitrailers (A 53′ semitrailer holds 40,000 lbs)
  • One humpback whale (average weight is between 25-40 tons or 50,000-80,000 lbs)
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    As ridiculous as the last comparison seems, it brings to light the magnitude of community support Loaves & Fishes experienced throughout the weekend, and our ability to work together to address community issues such as hunger.

    Credit: Denise Crosby, Sun-Times Media

    Credit: Denise Crosby, Sun-Times Media

    While food donations continued to stream in Monday morning, Charles McLimans, Loaves & Fishes’ President & CEO, attended a local “On the Table” discussion, which was one of many gatherings taking place across the Chicago area on Monday as part of The Chicago Community Trust’s initiative “to bring together diverse and passionate voices for discussions on our future.”

    Moderated by Denise Crosby and hosted by Sun-Times Media, this local event gathered Nicki Anderson, Naperville Chamber of Commerce President; Danise Habun, Elgin activist; Dave Kaptain, Elgin Mayor; Kristen Ziman, Aurora Police Commander; Nidya Garcia, VNA Outreach Coordinator; and Carl Schoedel, Kane County Director of Transportation, in addition to Charles.

    Volunteers were sorting machines on Monday to prepare for Tuesday morning distribution.

    Volunteers were sorting machines on Monday to prepare for Tuesday morning distribution.

    One important idea that came from the meeting was shared by Dave Kaptain, who said “We need to work together as a community to find more efficient ways to meet [our community] needs.” As evidenced by the Stamp Out Hunger success, our immediate community has the drive and ability to collaborate to tackle large-scale problems; however, how do we continue to connect to our rapidly expanding community? If you look at Loaves & Fishes’ client map, you will see that our client population has greatly expanded since 2010, when we opened our doors to all DuPage County residents.

    As Nidya Garcia mentioned, “[Community involvement] has to come through awareness. We have to show people what is happening so they begin to care.” On Monday, May 19th, Loaves & Fishes will be hosting an open house for community members interested in becoming volunteers from 4-7 pm. This is a great opportunity for individuals unfamiliar with Loaves & Fishes to visit and learn how they can get involved in solving local hunger issues. Community members are also encouraged to attend Day Without Hunger, Loaves & Fishes’ free annual summer celebration of community partnerships, on Friday, June 13th from 11 am-7 pm. This year, we will be making a major announcement about our future plans to benefit our neighbors in need!

    Thanks to everyone who made Stamp Out Hunger such a huge success!

    Thanks to everyone who made Stamp Out Hunger such a huge success!

    Most importantly, Share the Joy, our volunteer-led initiative, will build awareness in our community and have a tremendous impact on our collaborative efforts. By connecting our community to compassion, Loaves & Fishes seeks to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives. You can help our community progress by connecting with us via social media and sharing our posts! We have seen the incredible power of community in action, so let’s continue to build awareness to we can realize our vision of ending hunger in our community!

    For full “Community leaders put their concerns, ideas ‘On the Table’ in Fox Valley” article, click here.

    May 5th, 2014

    On Monday, May 19th from 4-7 pm, Loaves & Fishes will be hosting an open house for any community members interested in becoming volunteers. Our volunteer base of over 1,500 makes our progress and success possible, and we are always looking for new team members that are interested in giving back and helping our neighbors in need.
     
     
    What does it take to become a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes, though?

    Community – Are you passionate about making a positive difference in your neighbors’ lives and helping our local economy by promoting self-sufficiency?
    Compassion – Are you a kind and caring person who loves to make people smile?
    Dignity – Are you impelled to sustain the self-respect of our neighbors as they face difficult barriers in their lives?
    Hope – Are you able to comfort and guide our neighbors as they address these barriers by seeking assistance from Loaves & Fishes?
    Service – Are you inspired to make our community a better place to live by improving the lives of others?

    If you answered YES to any of these questions, Loaves & Fishes is the place for you!

    Check out our open house on May 19th to learn about all the exciting opportunities available to you, and bring a friend, family member, neighbor or colleague! The more help we have, the more we can help others. You can also help by sharing this post using the links below. We look forward to seeing you!

    April 21st, 2014

    Spring cleaning can finally begin now that the winter has released its firm grip on the suburbs. As we start emptying our cabinets and throwing away unwanted items, the National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual Stamp Out Hunger food collection is a reminder that we live among neighbors who cannot afford nutritious foods for their families.

    Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    This incredible single-day food drive is especially crucial in the wake of rising food prices for items such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and fresh produce. In her article, “Meat and Produce Prices Lead Surge in Food Costs,” Alison Griswold discusses how “consumers will be spending proportionately more of their income on trips to the grocery. This leaves less pocket money for other discretionary spending, which isn’t great for the economy.” At Loaves & Fishes, our team prepares for potentially more clients visiting our grocery market to save for other household expenses, and we are hopeful that our current partnerships with local grocery stores will continue to donate a similar amount of these products as part of our food rescue efforts.

    In addition to our food recovery, we are seeking assistance from the Naperville community through Stamp Out Hunger. In a recent article in the Naperville Sun, Susan Frick Carlman describes the extraordinary goal that has been set by local leadership. “Maria Espinosa and Lyphus Stevenson plan to boost the local numbers substantially, though they recognize it’s an ambitious objective. This year’s goal of 55,000 pounds exceeds the Naperville carriers’ record year by 10 percent.”

    Credit: Naperville Community Television 17

    Credit: Naperville Community Television 17

    We were honored to be present at the April 15th Naperville City Council Meeting when the proclamation that May 10, 2014 is National Food Drive Day to Stamp Out Hunger was issued. With this proclamation, we anticipate greater community support for our low-income neighbors. Postmaster Kenneth Kronberg agrees that this year will be a huge success, “‘I think with Maria and Lyphus there, they’re going to get 100,000,’ he said. ‘I guarantee they will.’”

    You can help us achieve our goal by placing a bag of food beside your mailbox by 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 10th for your mail carrier to help Stamp Out Hunger! Paper goods and nonperishable items are welcome; please check out our Most Needed Items list to help Loaves & Fishes stock up on necessary nutrition! You can also help by sharing this story via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or by email by using the links below. We appreciate your help in spreading the word!

    For full “Meat and Produce Prices Lead Surge in Food Costs” article, click here.
    For full “Delivering nourishment: Post Office seeks to collect record amount of food” article, click here.

    April 16th, 2014

    8-day old Daniel posed with his mom, Samantha, in our grocery market today while they were shopping. Notice the cute stuff bunnies to his left? Those were put together by Barb Ryan, our volunteer, who has been handing them out to children all week! Thanks to all our friends who make adorable moments like this possible!
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    March 27th, 2014

    Spring has finally arrived, accompanied by a sense of growth and renewal. Just as the earth renews itself and green grass, flowers, and trees begin to awaken from their winter slumber, Loaves & Fishes continues to grow and renew our purpose.

    Our enhanced Smart Check nutrition program helps to educate client families in recognizing the benefits of the variety of healthy products stocked throughout the Client Choice distribution center in a new configuration.

    Empowerment programs continue to expand. At press time, more clients and community members will have filed their basic tax returns through our award-winning Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program than the entire previous tax season.

    Our best in class food recovery program is the centerpiece of our sustainability practices. Did you know we recover an average of 60,000 pounds of nutritious foods each week that would otherwise end up in landfills? And that’s just the beginning. Read more about our recycling and other “green” activities.

    Our recently founded Young Community Action Network (YCAN) brings young professionals together to combine networking with mission engagement in a fun atmosphere.

    Share the Joy celebrates the jubilant feelings Loaves & Fishes volunteers bring to the people they serve while
    deriving joy from their work. This new initiative will spread that emotion throughout the community to inspire broader engagement.

    Loaves & Fishes will kick off our 30th year of service at Day Without Hunger on Friday, June 13th. Join us to learn how our mission will continue to grow as we expand our efforts to end hunger and empower community, and how you can be part of it.

    ~Charles

    February 5th, 2014

    Today marks the first request for food made to St. Raphael Catholic Church, answered by what would soon become Loaves & Fishes. As the demand for our services grew, the outpouring of community support was inspiring. As we reach our 30th year anniversary (which will kick off at Day Without Hunger), Loaves & Fishes is pleased to share new opportunities for those looking to get involved with Loaves & Fishes!

    DSC_0319Being a fully functioning warehouse, Loaves & Fishes has been dedicated to ensuring a safe environment for our volunteers, which meant that children could not volunteer during regular volunteer hours. Since so many families are interested in volunteering as a group, this became problematic, especially because we know how important it is for children to understand our community needs and how they can make a difference in the lives of others, even at a young age. Our team continued brainstorming, and thanks to the leadership of Patrice and Jim Lia, Kids Care2 was launched to provide family volunteering opportunities as well as special Loaves & Fishes’ birthday parties. We are so excited to share our mission with local kids!

    While we continue to expand our opportunities for our youngest community members, Loaves & Fishes has also introduced the Young Community Action Network (YCAN) to engage young adults. So many individuals are interested in getting involved with our mission; however, due to their busy professional life, they are unable to make time to volunteer and feel like a part of the Loaves & Fishes family. YCAN combines elements of a networking group and social club with the goal of raising awareness for a good cause. For more information, email Matt Chicola, Advancement Coordinator, at mchicola@loaves-fishes.org.

    1798575_10151888843185583_1901788926_nAs for our current and future volunteers, Loaves & Fishes is taking the next step in our evolution to provide the highest quality service: volunteer training videos. By creating these modules, we can ensure our volunteers receive the same training for new tasks that may be unfamiliar to them. Moreover, this benefits our clients because they will have a consistent, positive experience each time they visit.

    We are honored to share these developments with you in hopes that you will join our team, or if you are already on our team, we hope you will invite someone else who was unable to join before! Be a part of it today!

    December 26th, 2013

    Before the holiday, I was making my way into the city via the Green Line to have dinner with some friends. It was a cold winter day, and after a few stops, two men got on the train and sat nearby. Seeing as how it take about 30-40 minutes to get to the loop from Oak Park, I had settled in with my headphones on and was lost in thought about my plans for the night.

    I was pulled from my trance when I noticed that the two men were looking up at the transit map and discussing the necessary transfers. While I am no expert of the city, my phone usually guides me to where I need to go, so I offered my assistance and asked, “can I help you? Where are you going?”

    “To the homeless shelter,” was the response, “and we need to be there by 7:30.” Up until that point, I had not considered these guys to be homeless. Sure, they were bundled up in older clothes; however, as I have learned at Loaves & Fishes, poverty comes in many forms. I quickly mapped out their route and explained it to them.

    “Is that the iPhone 5?” one of the guys, who introduced himself as Greg, asked.

    “Nope,” I replied. “This is the 4s. I got it through work.”

    “What do you do?” Greg asked.

    “Work for a nonprofit called Loaves & Fishes,” I responded. “We are a community center that offers food, job search support, ESL and computer classes, and more.”

    “Job search support,” Greg repeated. “That is what I really need right now.”

    After explaining how the program worked and describing where we are located in relation to mass transit, Greg asked, “Got a card?”

    “Sure!” I fetched one out of my wallet and handed it over. Then, him and his friend were out of the train car and back to battling the cold air in their search for shelter for the night. Suddenly, I was wracked with guilt and remorse. I didn’t have any cash or gift cards, but why didn’t I offer them my Ventra card? Surely there could have been something more I could have gave them!

    After contemplating the whole interaction during the remainder of my ride, I came to realize that I was agitated because that could have been me. While I am generally a bad judge of age, I assumed Greg was close to my age. If I did not have a supportive network of family and friends, that could have been me on the train trying to navigate to the homeless shelter. Sure, Greg could have had some additional background issues that I was not made aware of but that seemed irrelevant when considering that this guy was just seeking normalcy and a better life.

    Before exiting the train, I had a moment of clarity and was calmed when I considered what I was able to offer Greg: assistance through Loaves & Fishes. While some cash or a gift card would help him immediately, the job search support program can have a long-term impact on his life. Loaves & Fishes is able to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives by empowering them toward self-sufficiency through our programs. By handing off my card, Greg can be connected to services that build up his confidence and skills, so he is ready for employment.

    I hope to hear from Greg in the new year, so I can put him into contact with our program leaders. Then, after he has received assistance and finds the normalcy he is seeking, he can be the person on the train speaking to someone else who is going through a difficult time and describing how Loaves & Fishes has affected his life.

    ~Matt Chicola, Advancement Coordinator