August 19th, 2015

IMGP1430Loaves & Fishes was fortunate to have members of the Smile Squad visit our facility recently, a mobile dental clinic that travels from place to place in DuPage County offering general dental checkups to at-risk children. One of our visitors on Smile Squad day was a mother with a 5 year old boy. She was excited when she saw the mobile unit and anxious to get her son into the chair. He had been complaining of a tooth ache, but a quick examination showed a more serious problem. Dental decay marred almost every tooth, leaving little hope for an easy solution.

Unfortunately, poor eating habits that are allowed to continue over long periods can have all kinds of devastating health consequences. Children are especially at risk, since the early years are important for the proper development of bones, brain architecture, and even social interactions.

10850302_10152460279925583_6326167119503206952_nWhen food insecurity is part of the problem, it’s important to recognize and address these circumstances as soon as possible. With better communication between the medical community and relief agencies, we might be able to spot and curb food insecurity issues before they develop into a life-long problem. We need a connection between the medical community and safety net organizations.

I think we’ve found that link in the Hunger Vital Sign™. The Hunger Vital Sign™ is a simple screening tool developed by Children’s HealthWatch to identify young children in households at risk of food insecurity. Those who answer “yes” or “sometimes” to either of the following questions may have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods:

  • “Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”
  • “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.”
    20140416_144248Children’s HealthWatch has found in their clinical trials that compared to young children in food-secure households, families at risk of food insecurity are more likely to be in fair or poor health, to have been hospitalized, and to be at risk for developmental delays. For the same reasons, mothers of young children are more likely to be in fair or poor health and to report depressive symptoms.

    Loaves & Fishes is building partnerships with the medical community to implement this screening tool in local doctors’ intake notes. Then, after the doctors determine that a family is food insecure, they will connect the families to resources that can make a difference, such as our Community Food & Nutrition Program. It’s time to screen and intervene. Stay tuned for more progress on this necessary collaborative initiative.

    Jane Macdonald, Associate Director of Community Health

    August 18th, 2015

    d13f5123-303a-4123-8c21-08f2a615e7b3I am one of the newest members of the Loaves & Fishes team, just a little over 30 days old. Being new at a job is exciting and challenging. It comes with great anticipation and expectations. I am ready to roll up and my sleeves and join the fight to end hunger and empower lives. However, in the back of my mind there are many questions; can I really help “advance” the mission, what needs to be done to make a real difference in Naperville/DuPage County?

    During my registration orientation there was a very well dressed older woman about to sit down to register. I said hello and when she looked up at me, I noticed sadness in her eyes as she gave her info to the registration specialist I was working alongside. My first instinct was to give her a big hug because this woman reminded me so much of my mother. I became overwhelmed with emotion and immediately went to the bathroom to “get it together” (crying on the job is not a good first impression).

    LaVerne's niece and nephew take a ride on the United Way train.

    LaVerne’s niece and nephew take a ride on the United Way train.

    My mind just started racing with thoughts of this woman; she needs help, what can I do, what should I do, and then it donned on me, she was in the best place possible, getting the best help possible. She was at Loaves & Fishes Community Services! We are a ray of hope in the lives of people who need a little help to get by. Our team would make sure she got everything she needed.

    There are a lot of people in DuPage County that will remind me of parents, grandparents, friends, etc. who need assistance. I am excited that we will be here to make sure they get the help they need to live a happy and heathier life.

    Here’s to the next 30 days. . .

    LaVerne Mathews, Director of Advancement

    August 12th, 2015

    August 12th, 2015

    Numbers have never really been my friend. When it came to calculations in school, I had a hard time grasping what it all meant. So I focused on my strength – writing – and took a break from math. It wasn’t for too long though because when I joined the staff at Loaves & Fishes, I found myself reintroduced to crunching numbers in grant proposals and communications but it was different this time – the numbers made sense and had meaning. And I wouldn’t be a very good Director of External Relations if I didn’t share my new found love for numbers with you.

    2015ImpactSummary-final_Page_1Loaves & Fishes recently released the impact summary from our last fiscal year ending on June 30th, and as you will see, it includes a lot of numbers. I would like to focus on two particular numbers: 20,266 individuals and 136,193 total people served.

    When people are asked to describe DuPage County, it isn’t surprising to hear words like jobs, affluent, and wealth. It’s not typical to hear words like poverty, lack of resources, and food insecurity; however, we see this on a daily basis at Loaves & Fishes. In fact, 20,266 individuals are struggling with these issues, which is why they have become clients in the past year. According to research from Feeding America, 85,560 residents of DuPage County are food insecure, meaning they lack access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. That means that we are serving approximately 25% of our food insecure residents and our client numbers continue to incrementally grow!

    That brings me to our next number—136,193—which represents the total people served by Loaves & Fishes last fiscal year. If you are a math person, this is the number of individuals multiplied by the number of visits. So essentially, those 20,266 individuals received grocery assistance from us 136,193 times. Or, if you divide these numbers against each other, our clients utilized our services for 6-7 visits on average over the course of the year.

    2015ImpactSummary-final_Page_2For those who share my past disdain for calculations, let me provide a short narrative perspective of these numbers. When I first joined Loaves & Fishes as a volunteer in 2011, I preferred being stationed in the produce area of the grocery market. It wasn’t long before I recognized an older couple – my neighbors – as they made their way through. I learned they were picking up groceries for their daughter, a single mom of two young kids who was working multiple jobs to make ends meet. After a handful of visits to Loaves & Fishes, I found out that the mother secured a full-time position that paid enough for her to financially support her kids (thereby no longer needing our services) and spend more time with them as well. Loaves & Fishes is a safety net for those families that happen to lose their jobs or encounter other barriers; 136,193 illustrates the number of “life-lines” for those in need of additional resources during a difficult time.

    As you review further statistics from our previous fiscal year, I hope the numbers have a similar effect on you as they have on me because it motivates me to find new ways to benefit our neighbors’ well-being. And nothing is more powerful than a number that drives action!

    Matt Chicola, Director of External Relations

    August 12th, 2015

    When I joined Loaves & Fishes, I marveled at the commitment, loyalty and diversity of volunteer manpower. Each day was more inspiring than the day before as I would learn the stories of our long term volunteers:

    • the couple who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by starting the day volunteering
    • the volunteers I see four days every week
    • the woman who would always come if she wasn’t feeling too ill from her cancer treatment
    • The 90-year-old couple who work Saturday mornings “if it isn’t too icy out”

    I had never heard these stories when I volunteered at a shelter or hospital (both very worthy causes). Why does ongoing service at Loaves & Fishes become an expression of one’s character?

    IMGP0552-reducedOur services are very personal. Volunteers support the empowerment of our low-income neighbors. Aside from food, we also offer programs, classes and services to clients trying to elevate their circumstances from surviving to thriving. For 31 years we have offered the most intimate form of care – providing nutrition so that families do not go hungry.

    This compassionate environment permeates every facet of the volunteer experience. Although our manpower may be in the hundreds, we get to know one another without pretense. Working together to sort fruits and vegetables, to provide milk, eggs, cheese is the most basic, almost instinctual act of shared service. It is like preparing your family table to feed those you care about.

    The variety of volunteer activities has great breadth as well. A volunteer may not have the ability to stand for three hours moving boxes and stocking cans, so driving the van to our food partners would be a better fit. Others may serve through compGinger1uter work. We also have skilled positions for those that bring management skills to us. We depend heavily on volunteer leadership for every area of operation or empowerment programs. Loaves & Fishes has training and advancement for individuals that would like greater responsibility.

    Volunteer Rob Kostelny summed it up this way: “What makes Loaves & Fishes unique is the wide spectrum of volunteer work you can do. At most other places you do the same thing shift after shift and everyone around you does the same thing. At Loaves & Fishes if you hit a saturation point as to what you volunteer for, there are other areas you can move into.”

    Loaves & Fishes is always evolving and examining the way we provide our services. Last spring I called together a team of seasoned volunteers that brought many years of executive leadership to a “Logistics Committee.” We developed strategies to achieve necessary operational changes and a timeline to coincide with the start of our new fiscal year. The synergy of this group of men and women was infectious! Weekly meetings were supported by daily conversations and emails. Expert knowledge was brought in through the network of these enthusiastic volunteers. The group continues to watch for best practices throughout our facility.

    Along with the good work that is performed inside of Loaves & Fishes, there are many gatherings outside of the building. We have annual picnics, bowling, visits to baseball games, plays and a formal dinner celebration. Volunteers love to have their family meet their “Loaves & Fishes family” at these gatherings. Visits are made to fellow volunteers during times of illness, injury or life’s stresses. At times of family loss volunteers are a supportive presence at wakes and shivas.

    Compassion is a core value of Loaves & Fishes. It is amazing to see the compassion that is expressed by volunteers.

    “It (volunteering) brings me a sense of family and friendships. I also know that I am needed!” chuckles volunteer Audrey Lisk.

    Shelly Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Engagement

    August 6th, 2015

    July 31st, 2015

    Topic Community
    July 31st, 2015

    Alex UW-Madison Move InThe summer is passing by way too quickly. It seems like we just moved our daughter’s “stuff” home from college and she is already preparing her list of additional “stuff” to bring back to college! It was easier when her school supply list consisted of 8 markers, 4 glue sticks, 10 No. 2 pencils, 4 pens (including 1 red pen), 5 folders, 5 spiral notebooks, a ruler, a protractor and a compass. Now the list includes a microwave, single-serve coffeemaker, and a 5×7 rug. We are fortunate that as electronics continue to improve, the cost continues to decrease. When microwaves first came out (yes, I do remember that day), my family paid nearly $500 for an extremely heavy, large version of the new timesaver device. Now, you can get an efficient smaller microwave for $50. On move-in day, we will make our usual stop at the local Walmart to pick up miscellaneous food items that she can prepare in her efficient microwave.

    Abundant fresh produce at a farmers marketThe increase in food prices is partially due to the additional indecipherable ingredients that are added to enhance the flavor and “nutritional value” of the item. If our daughter’s dorm was near a grocery store, she could purchase nutritional food items with one real ingredient such as lettuce, pears, bananas, and strawberries. With lack of transportation, her choices are limited. Out of convenience, many families choose less nutritious, higher-priced food items from stores closer to their home.

    Recently, I read an editorial in the Chicago Tribune’s “Speak Out” column from an anonymous tyrant who couldn’t comprehend why people have children if they can’t afford to feed them. Seriously? Most people struggle at some time in their life and when this happens, Loaves & Fishes is there to offer support both emotionally and physically. At Loaves & Fishes, we are able to provide fresh produce, meat and dairy along with a wide assortment of other food items to families who are struggling to put food on their table. Our son lives in Washington, DC and our daughter will be heading back to school soon; I will always worry about them, but I know they have the tools to survive any situation they might encounter.

    MadisonmarketSo until the end of October, our daughter will continue her weekly ritual of hunting for fresh produce and other items at the local Farmer’s Market. Maybe she should take a lesson from the native squirrel and start preparing for the inevitable winter hibernation. Although, with all of the “hiding” places in her dorm room, she may not be able to locate her hidden “treasure” let alone a No. 2 pencil!

    Diane Ramonas, Donor Relations Officer

    To read volunteer Sue Swedler’s amazing response to this editorial by clicking here.

    July 29th, 2015

    July 29th, 2015

    As I’m spreading the word about Loaves & Fishes’ Concert to End Hunger, people assume I don’t know who Harry Chapin is. I was not around to buy his albums when they were first released and I never saw him live in concert. He died when I was a 1-year-old.


     This weekend I’m going to an alumni reunion at the YMCA camp I went to as a child. It is also the place I started my working life at 16 and stayed with clear through college. The YMCA taught me the vital impact of children and families having access to recreation, summer camp, swim lessons —whether they can pay for it or not. They are the reason I entered and stayed in non-profit human service work. Harry Chapin was a standard on the mix tapes made to memorialize each summer. He is big in the camp songbook. We even used “Flowers Are Red” in our annual staff training curriculum. Harry’s Greatest Stories Live was among the first CD’s I ever owned. When I joined the staff of Loaves & Fishes last September and I was told we were thinking of doing a Steve Chapin Band concert, I felt a knowing and rejoicing in my heart’s memory. Perfect.

    Harry Chapin’s songs tell the stories of people. The story of fatherhood, loneliness, falling in love, old love long past, what happens to children, how people dream… He gives us those moments we know in our hearts as the truth of the human condition. It’s emotional.

    Celebrities often get behind charitable causes and social justice efforts. Sometimes it’s not sincere or impressive, but in Harry’s case, it is. Harry Chapin gave an estimated $6 million to charity during his lifetime. Hunger relief was his life mission. You can hear it on that live track where declares, “There’s enough food on this planet to feed everyone twice over” and powerfully questions, “Why, why, why are people hungry?”


    The Harry Chapin Foundation continues to support organizations today that help people become self-sufficient. I think Harry would be pleased to know that his life work continues, but he would also be very sad to know that it has had to continue. People are still hungry.

    During his lifetime, Harry also founded WhyHunger, an organization that still exists to build a broad-based social movement to end hunger. Their core values speak of the understanding that solutions and innovation are often found in the grassroots. Where Loaves & Fishes sits, this is a daily truth.

    What we cycle through every day at Loaves & Fishes is what changes the world. Recovering the wasted food from our community and getting it to those who need it is part of this solution. The conversations we have with every client now, through our Client Engagement Model is an innovation that changes the face of hunger relief. If our ideas change the way we do things, and others do things, it is grassroots change. I’m so happy I have arrived here at Loaves & Fishes to see it happen.

    On September 19th, I will also be happy to hear Harry Chapin’s music live, from the closest thing I will ever get to the real thing. All my life’s a circle, too.

    Miranda Barfuss, Special Events Manager