July 4th, 2015

“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Megan Selck, Loaves & Fishes’ President and CEO.

Family life and services are primary focuses to Loaves & Fishes, making every volunteer, donation and contribution a positive difference maker.

IMG_2316A new addition to our cause is Sammy Hager, front man of The Circle and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who presented Loaves & Fishes with a $2,500 contribution before taking the main stage at the Exchange Club of Naperville Ribfest.

Hagar’s donation, made possible through The Hagar Family Foundation, will ensure that substantial and healthy meals are provided for families in relation to our Children Nutrition Initiative, which has been expanded to include children, aged 0-4 and expectant mothers.

“I am honored to be standing alongside Sammy Hagar in our fight against child hunger,” said Selck, “and I want to thank Dave Brown, Loaves & Fishes’ Board Member, for initiating and coordinating this partnership opportunity.”

The Exchange Club of Naperville Ribfest, held Fourth of July weekend in Knoch Park, brings in musical talent, food and beverage vendors and lots of family fun including Independence Day fireworks each year.

L&F staff and volunteers at Ribfest 2013“Loaves & Fishes has a long history of volunteering at Ribfest to support the Exchange Club’s national program of preventing child abuse,” said Shelly Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Engagement at Loaves & Fishes.

With over 75 Loaves & Fishes volunteers ranging from ages 35 to 81 sent to help at Ribfest, we are able to connect with our community and give back in more ways while enjoying a Naperville tradition.

“We are grateful for the support of the Exchange Club as they allocate some of their profits to our cause every year. Long live Ribfest!” said Schmitz.

May 13th, 2015

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was delighted to attend the ribbon-cutting on Thursday for the Elmwood Elementary School garden. I had been notified of this event several months ago by Sandy Bell, the organizer of this amazing project, after she had read my blog. Other schools in Naperville have gardens that have been successfully producing vegetables and fruits for several years. However as I had mentioned in my previous blog, Elmwood School is dear to my heart since I once walked the halls of the school as a student. I eagerly awaited the date of the ribbon-cutting for the garden as I was also hoping for a tour of the school that I had not visited for… let’s just say many years.

During the time that I was attending Elmwood, my family was cultivating a community garden plot provided by the Naperville Park District. Back then, the community garden plots were not located on West Street; rather, they were located on 83rd Street, on the grounds of what is now Springbrook Golf Course. On any given Saturday afternoon (and some weekday evenings), you would find us at our garden plot. After we had finished our Saturday chores (each of us kids had a list with jobs that had to be completed and inspected before we could be “released” for the day), we would pile into our ’65 Chrysler Newport and drive the 3 ½ miles to our garden plot.

As was the norm for our family, each of my siblings and I had a specific job for the cultivation and ultimate harvest of our garden. My job consisted of pulling weeds and assisting in the harvest of the cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes. To this day, I still enjoy the meditative process of pulling the weeds in our yard, especially after a good rain. I am sure the students at Elmwood School will carry the lessons they learn from tending a garden into their future. One thing I know for sure, they will love the delicious fruits (or vegetables) of their labor!

Diane Ramonas
Donor Relations Officer

Read more about the Elmwood Elementary Garden by clicking here.

May 13th, 2015

A recipe from Curt's Cookbook

A recipe from Curt’s Cookbook

I’m not really a recipe person. When (if) I prepare dinner, it’s really more about what’s in the refrigerator than anything else. I like flexibility when I cook, and the whole idea that a lot of food will not be going to waste. After starting with a few fundamentals, like mirepoix or pesto, I feel empowered in the kitchen to mix and match. Not so with my daughter. She is much more comfortable if she is working with a list of ingredients and knows exactly how much tomato sauce to add. I get that. If it doesn’t taste good, you can always say, “But I followed the recipe!”

Many people assume that families experiencing food insecurity don’t know much about cooking. It would seem so, since they often don’t have the time to prepare elaborate meals, or don’t have access to the ingredients of choice. But at least some of the research I’ve seen says otherwise. One study through the University of Cincinnati looked at the cooking confidence of households experiencing food insecurity and found that 87% of food pantry users were very confident in their cooking skills. I’m glad to see that in writing. I can say without hesitation that cooking skills do abound on the Loaves & Fishes turf.

IMG_2160Last January, out of the blue, I received an email from an individual who wanted to meet with me briefly. This individual, who I will call Curt, had been an occasional visitor to Loaves & Fishes over a recent two-year period. When we got the chance to sit down, Curt handed me a beautifully crafted notebook with an inviting cover entitled, “Today’s Delicious Good Eatin’ Menu Specials.” Inside, Curt had included a sampling of simple, mouth-watering main dish recipes. He had developed them himself using many of the ingredients that he had found in the Loaves & Fishes grocery market. He even included open categories in the back for soups, salads, and other delights to come. During our conversation, Curt explained that his career had been in food service before his disability had forced him out of the workplace. He still enjoys cooking and developing new recipes, and he was offering his latest creations in hopes that he could “give back” to a place that had helped to support him in a time of need. Curt is as creative in the marketplace as he is in the kitchen and has since started his own online enterprise where he hopes to sell his crafts and expertise.

DOC022_Page_1I was so encouraged by our conversation that I took the notebook without hesitation. The recipes have been shared with other Loaves & Fishes visitors on several occasions. I think in the end that Curt and I feel the same way about recipes. The best thing about a recipe is how it makes you feel – imagining it, testing it, and sharing it. That’s a great recipe for success. Definitely good eatin’. Thanks, Curt.

Jane Macdonald
Director of Nutrition & Wellness

May 12th, 2015

It’s 10:10 am; my phone rings. It’s my daughter, Iman. She’s 20 years of age, my only child, and currently residing in New York attending college in Manhattan. I get on her all the time about calling me at work but she doesn’t listen, especially if she needs money. It’s all an emergency to her.

I answer the phone, “Yes Iman, what’s up?”
“Nothing, just seeing what you’re up to father,” she replies.
“Working, something you should be doing right now also,” I reply.
“Well Mr. Smarty, me and my roommates are moving to Brooklyn into this apartment and I was wondering can you co-sign on the apartment for us?” she asks.
“Absolutely not,” I respond.
“Well,” she pauses. “Can you help me with the move-in cost because we have to pay two months in advance for the security deposit without a co-signer?”
“Ok, yes,” I give in. “We’ll talk about it later today. Call me tonight with the landlord’s info. Iman, I have to go help out with registration, I’ll send the money. You can just text me this next time”.
“FINE,” she says. “Well thank you daddy, that’s all I wanted. Love you!”

After hanging up the phone, I walk into the lobby area and notice a woman coming through the double doors. I hold the door for her while welcoming her to Loaves & Fishes and asking her “how can we assist you today?”

“Hi, I’m Regina, I’m here for the food pantry,” she responds.
“Well, it’s actually more a food market because we have fresh food and household products, not just canned goods like other pantries,” I tell her. “Plus we offer computer classes, ESL classes, job support, legal support, money management, public benefits, nutrition, veterans support, and tax assistance.” I hand her a brochure while saying, “You can learn more about these programs during an empowerment interview.”
“WOW, I see that I came to the right place today,” she replies.
“Our goal at Loaves & Fishes is to assist people with locating programs or services that will improve their current status,” I explain to her. I begin leading Regina toward the grocery market, but I stop short to ask, “Would you be open to scheduling an Empowerment appointment to discuss everything in detail? You can come back within a week and shop after our meeting ends.”
“I can get more food next week?” asks Regina. “Oh I’m definitely coming back then!”

Regina returned for her empowerment meeting and we went straight to work. She explained the current obstacles she’s experiencing: married, husband laid off from work, four children between the ages of 2-11, and living in her mother’s small 3 bedroom apartment. Their only income is Regina’s $11.50 per hour job and her husband’s unemployment benefits. Regina was able to save $3,000 over the years to put down for a security deposit and the first month’s rent but she’s been turned away several times by landlords.

“Do you mind if I place a phone call to a potential resource that could maybe assist you?” I ask.
“Sure, go ahead,” she replies.

After speaking with a property manager through CHAD housing, we find a few available 3 bedroom apartments in Regina’s price range. I download the rental application and tell Regina, “Complete this as soon as possible and fax it over to the CHAD property manager over the weekend.”
“Boy, who you know and what type of magic do you have?” Regina jokes, and we both laugh.

A week goes by, and I get a phone call from Regina.
“Mr. Ward, you won’t believe this,” she starts out, barely able to contain her excitement. “I got the apartment and we’re moving next week!”
“That’s great!” I reply. “I’m happy you and your family are getting a place of your own”.
“You are a life saver, for real,” Regina tells me. “I just learned how to bake; can I make you a cake or pie to show how thankful I am for all you did for us?”
“No, No, you don’t have to do that,” I respond, laughing. “This is what Loaves & Fishes is here for, to empower your life long term by connecting you to resources that aid you in becoming self-sufficient.”
“Well you definitely did because I never even heard of CHAD and I live right by them,” Regina admits.
“If there’s anything I can assist you or your family with please contact me,” I say. “I’m happy that you’re happy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ward,” Regina responds.

Later that evening, my daughter calls me.
“Hi dad, what are you doing?” Iman asks.
“Chillin out, about to go to basketball practice, what’s up with you,” I reply.
“Daddy, we just got approved for another apartment we really wanted though it does cost a little more than the lease we just signed, but its closer to all the clubs,” my daughter tells me.

Just then it hit me – with assistance, I was able to help secure housing for a client at work and for my daughter and that makes me happy. But it also dawned on me that these are two different worlds. I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector since I graduated from undergrad in 1996. My daughter is aware and has been with me on many occasions giving back to those with less. I told her the story of me helping Regina find an apartment for her family and her challenges in life.

“Wow Dad, I have been spoiled and privileged,” she admits, “thanks for the story. I’m thankful.”
“You’re right about that babygirl,” I reply. “I’m happy to be at Loaves & Fishes helping those who are less fortunate because there is always someone out there who has less than you. Remember that.”

I’m sure Iman will remember. My daughter is a great young lady with a heart of gold.

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs

May 12th, 2015

IMG_2158What do you want to be when you grow up? Simple question, right? We ask this to children of all ages, but what do we expect for an answer? A teacher, police officer, lawyer – how about doctor? From the time that I was an inquisitive, talkative, freckle-faced little girl that’s always been my answer – doctor.

Fast forward to freshman year of college – I shadowed two separate physicians – on both occasions, as needles were present or blood was shed I became hot, turned pale, and hit the floor – fainted.

Imagine my disappointment. But disappointment in what? Not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up? Disappointment in not having an answer to that question? Disappointment in telling my parents? With tears in my eyes, I called home and talked to my dad, my hero. I very clearly remember him saying to me, “Megan, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up – as long as you make a difference in this world.” Well, that didn’t exactly solve all of my problems. What does an 18 year old, still inquisitive, talkative, and freckle-faced girl study now that her dreams of becoming a doctor are shattered to make a difference in this world?

Through various internships and opportunities, I spent a lot of time soul-searching and trying to answer that question – again. I took classes in all kinds of areas – thank goodness I went to a liberal arts college – Go Elmhurst! But it was during an internship at The Field Museum in their special events department where I worked closely with a client – a non-profit client – on their major annual fundraiser that the light bulb went off. I can work for a non-profit, even in healthcare, and make a difference in this world.

IMG_2156So I graduated, moved home, and found a job – in healthcare. My first job out of college was Annual Fund Coordinator at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center Foundation in St. Louis, MO. And guess what? I got to go to work every day, in the medical field, without needles or blood.

What I failed to mention was that while I was in undergrad, I met the love of my life, and two years after graduation, we married and moved for his job – we moved a lot. I am fortunate that I was able to continue to work in non-profit – particularly healthcare – for both national and local organizations.

After settling back in the Chicagoland area and starting a family of our own, I knew it was time for me to follow my passion. Raised by foodie parents, and often saying that “I was a foodie before it was cool to be a foodie,” I was ready to explore a new area and work locally for something that has always meant so much to me.

IMG_2157I grew up in a not perfect, but pretty close to perfect, house with two educators for parents, an annoying little brother (who’s now much bigger than me and my best friend), a dog, and the values, morals, character, kindness, and love that my parents continue to exude on a daily basis.

As a child, I learned those throughout all parts of the day, but the most important time for our family was mealtime. My mom, who is a cross between Mary Poppins and Martha Stewart, made every mealtime a family event: we shared happy moments, sad moments, had disagreements, and discussed dreams and aspirations. Some of my greatest memories of childhood are around my parents’ table. Actually, some of my greatest moments today are still around my parents’ table.

You see, I believe food feeds the body and the soul. Mealtime is when you hear the little things – and talk about the big things. It’s when I learned what annoyed me about my brother, but also what endeared him to me.

IMG_2155Now as a wife and mom, with a dog – in a not so perfect, but almost perfect house, I try so hard to make mealtime just as important for my family. Our 3 ½ year son, Drew, is not the foodie that his mama is. But it’s not just the food – it’s the time, the experience, the togetherness of meals at our house. It’s ok he doesn’t want to eat the gourmet meals I’ve prepared, because I know I prepared them with love, and he knows that mealtime means time together as a family.

I can’t imagine the stresses that our client families face. I can’t imagine not being able to feed my family. I can’t imagine not having the resources to prepare a meal so that we can feed our body and our soul. But I can imagine a world where less people have those struggles. I can see the difference we make in this world every day when I look in the faces of our clients at Loaves & Fishes. I’m humbled and honored to serve alongside our incredible, staff, volunteers, and community to make a difference in our world, just like my dad said.

Megan Selck
President & CEO

To learn more about the leadership change at Loaves & Fishes, read Susan Frick Carlman’s article in the Naperville Sun.

May 11th, 2015

Topic Community
May 8th, 2015

April 25th, 2015

The Giving DuPage Human Race was a blast today! #race #raceday #run

A photo posted by Loaves & Fishes (@loavesfishes1984) on

April 17th, 2015

March 23rd, 2015

Child poverty, unfortunately, is a growing epidemic in the state of Illinois. No one wants to see a child suffer. No one likes reading or hearing about a child being abused or neglected. We are aware of programs, services, and even policies at both the state and federal level that have been effective reducing child poverty and providing children with a safe, secure, and nurturing environment. Unfortunately, certain trends continue to exist which directly contribute to child poverty such as: generational poverty, underage parenting, community distress, unemployment and I must add the proposed state funding cuts.

10850302_10152460279925583_6326167119503206952_nAccording to Larry Joseph, Director of Research from Voices from Illinois Children, “child poverty is a complex problem that must be confronted with a comprehensive set of policy strategies.” I agree with that quote. I would also add that action must be implemented immediately because children grow up quickly. Having a soon-to-be 21 year old daughter in the next three months, I can say firsthand, they grow quickly.

Reports from Illinois Kids Count 2015 state, 21% of Illinois children lived in households with income below poverty level. That’s roughly a little over $18,000 for a family of three. Compare this stat to the percentage of children in 2007 which was 17% and in 2000 being 15%. The number of children living in poverty increased from 457,000 in 1999 to 663,500 in 2012, according to the Aledo Times Record. If that’s not an epidemic, please explain to me what is.

20140416_144248For 18 years, I worked for private foster care agencies mandated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who are under pressure of financial cuts every year. Making deep cuts in health care, child care assistance, and child protection services will increase child poverty and crime rates, which overall will increase the prison population. Child poverty rates are the highest for the youngest children (under 6), and remain present through adolescent and young adult stages, according to Joseph. Child poverty distracts academic achievement, health outcomes, and economic opportunities in adulthood. For the 18-21 age group, services like financial literacy, college assistance, employment resources, mental health care PLUS stable food and shelter are necessary, especially for children who experience and continue to experience traumatic events in their life. It’s my belief, by my own experience, that a small percentage of 18 years old even know how to write a check or complete a housing or job application.

I work for an anti-poverty organization that focuses on providing food, prevention, education, and wellness services to families throughout DuPage County. Over 70% of the families we service have children present between the ages of 0-18. Children have the right to receive programs and services that will empower their lives.

Choosing healthy itemsA couple solutions listed by Larry Joseph to expand opportunities for children and families are:
-Enhance tax credits for low income working families
-Strengthen food assistance
-Promote healthy families
-Renew investments in early childhood education

I agree with these solutions. What are your thoughts?

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs

For more information about child poverty, click here.