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.

March 17th, 2015

Topic Community
March 12th, 2015

Off-site storage has already transformed the first aisle of the grocery market.

Off-site storage has already transformed the first aisle of the grocery market.

Strange things appear to be happening at 1871 High Grove. Storage racks are disappearing, new displays are popping up in the grocery market and the warehouse has bright light beaming down from the now visible windows. What else can be expected and how will it benefit our clients, volunteers and operations? “With the growing number of clients, and overwhelming support of our volunteers, the demand to make the Loaves & Fishes experience better has become greater and greater,” says Megan Selck, Interim President & CEO. “This transformation has been developing over the past few months, and the time is now. With an emphasis on healthier options and promoting the dignity of our clients, the new set up will allow for a positive experience for all.”

Rented storage space at 1864 High Grove has been a tremendous help during the reconfiguration

Rented storage space at 1864 High Grove has been a tremendous help during the reconfiguration

During the month of March, Loaves & Fishes staff and volunteers are moving product across the street to a rented 5,000 square foot warehouse/office space. The storage of dry and canned goods across the street has already had dramatic impact on Loaves & Fishes’ operations. “We are rescuing more food, so we have needed more space to receive, sort, and store the food we receive,” explains Cary Gilkey, Director of Food Operations. “We have been sorting and processing 60,000 to 90,000 lbs of food that we receive every week. Multi-tasking in the cramped area has been a challenge. Safety and productivity are goals in our future improvements.”

(Left) Cramped spaces for sorting has (Right) opened up to improve the volunteer experience

(Left) Cramped spaces for sorting has (Right) opened up to improve the volunteer experience

Shelly Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Engagement, also sees added benefits and increased safety for our volunteers. “The back area is bigger, brighter and safer for those operating machinery or performing the important work of sorting through our fresh foods,” describes Shelly. “We continue to explore ways to improve the volunteer experience!” We have already seen improved productivity and eliminated much of the ‘double handling’ that previously occurred with incoming food. “It has become easier for staff and the volunteer captains to supervise and control the product flow,” says Cary.

In April, the grocery market reset will begin! The flow of the market will change to create a better client shopping experience. This will include less standardized shelving, an open floor plan and additional “showcase” refrigeration, similar to those seen in grocery markets. Thanks to grant funding from The DuPage Community Foundation and UPS, Loaves & Fishes can provide 12,000-15,000 lbs. more fresh, nutritious food to clients through these new refrigeration units.

11051777_1009156855779333_4889528689291511342_n“Our new configuration can be another opportunity to help our clients improve nutrition and develop better eating habits,” points out Jane Macdonald, Director of Nutrition & Wellness. “we will continue to educate our clients about the value of these choices. We can create nutrition ‘nudges,’ like placing healthy options at easy reach, opening our display area visually, and adding key messages on our shelves, that reinforce healthy lifestyles. It will be very reassuring to our families to know that Loaves & Fishes is concerned about health, and can meet nutrition challenges even under difficult circumstances.”

Stay tuned for more updates by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

March 9th, 2015

School systems may have many challenges in their attempt to provide a new level of healthy foods to students. That doesn’t surprise me really. It’s only been five years since Michelle Obama began to promote the Let’s Move initiatives, and despite the flack from the school yards, I am glad to see someone finally put a stake in the sand. I am happy to say that the wave she started has even washed over the shores of emergency food providers like Loaves & Fishes.

photo-smart2-webOver the decades we have learned some sobering facts about the consequences of continually eating highly refined and processed foods, and now we are faced with the challenges of making needed corrections. Our first attempts at promoting healthy food items at Loaves & Fishes weren’t met with instant success either. Through our Smart Check program, we help our clients easily identify foods that are higher in fiber and lower in saturated fats, sugars and sodium. And yet these items were overlooked week after week. It was disappointing to see that families were reluctant to choose the brown rice or the whole grain breads. Old habits die hard.

I asked Toni Havala, MS RD LDN who is currently serving on the Loaves & Fishes Nutrition Advisory Council, about her thoughts on the healthy eating standards that have finally made their way to our schools. “I feel that the reductions in sodium, fat, and calories in school lunches are good ones. Taste preferences have been shown to be established between the ages of 1-5 years old, so it’s especially important for toddlers and preschoolers to eat healthier. However, children who have eaten a diet high in sodium, sugar, and fat (which is the majority of American kids) aren’t initially going to enjoy healthier options because they aren’t used to it. This may result in more food waste at school.”

Hunger_Final-webBut what a difference those healthier options can make! Loaves & Fishes is hosting a community-wide session to build awareness of the long term impact of poor diet on early childhood development and education. On April 17, Dr. John Cook, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and an expert on food insecurity and its effect on children, will be discussing this topic with other health professionals in our community. He will make the point that we pay a heavy price when nutrition is sacrificed, and answers are needed now. Learn more by clicking here.

It is my hope that we can work more closely with our community schools to continue to change the thinking about healthy foods. Low-income families often struggle with the attitude that it takes too much money to eat in a healthy way. But there are many cost effective solutions that support health. It might take a little time, maybe even trial and error, but with perseverance and education we can get past the barriers.

Community Impact models like IAPO (the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity) can be highly effective mechanisms for sustainable change. Collaborative initiatives throughout the DuPage community undertaken by the FORWARD coalition (Fighting Obesity Reaching Healthy Weight Among Residents of DuPage) are already making great progress on childhood obesity in our area.

aa-kids-healthy-eatMichelle Obama hopes that if we stick to the plan, eventually we will see a generation of kids that love their raw carrots, apples, bananas and whole grains. Well said, Michelle. The thinking can shift if we collaborate on a solution, and the earlier we start the better!

When I was growing up, I thought that a pop tart was a wonderful way to start the day. Check it out. I haven’t had a pop tart in years.

Jane Macdonald
Director of Nutrition & Wellness

Learn more about current food waste in schools by clicking here.

Learn more about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative by clicking here.

Topic Hunger Facts
March 2nd, 2015

February 27th, 2015

February 17th, 2015

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. ~ Maya Angelou

Growing up in Naperville, I have experienced many changes that the city planners have made to accommodate a growing population. In the early 1960s, Naperville was a small town with a population around 12,000; today, the population has grown to about 142,000. Changes are necessary in all aspects of life, how we react or interact with that change can determine our role.

Main St. Naperville 1970sAs a small child, my world revolved around a 10 block area centered by my house. I walked or rode my bike to all of my schools – Elmwood Elementary, Lincoln Jr. High and Naperville Central High School. In my new role as Donor Relations Officer at Loaves & Fishes, I will be expanding my world and traveling throughout DuPage County and Naperville. The clients we serve at Loaves & Fishes travel from all over our county, so I want to enlighten the community about the increasing need for assistance to help our neighbors.

When we moved to Naperville, there was only one Catholic Church, Ss. Peter & Paul. As the population spread outward, St. Raphael Catholic Church was formed. Our family was part of that formation, first attending mass at a store front in the Naperville Plaza then moving to a room in the first building for St. Raphael Church (now the wing with the parish offices). Every Sunday morning, all seven of us would pile into our ’65 Chrysler and drive less than 2 blocks to church. Looking back, I wonder why we didn’t just walk the short distance; I suspect my parents were able to contain all of us easier in the car.

Picture10I am humbled that back in 1984, a few parishioners from St. Raphael Church chose to help 8 families in need and thus began the work of Loaves & Fishes. Those samaritans did not realize back then how their vision to help those struggling to feed their family would grow from 8 families to over 5,000 families over the past 30 years.

Join me on my journey as I travel to your town. I look forward to immersing myself in your community. If you have any suggestions of people or events not to miss, please let me know. I can be reached at Please be sure to enter “Travel to your town” in the subject line, and I welcome you to travel to my town and be my guest for a tour of Loaves & Fishes!

Diane Ramonas
Donor Relations Officer

Topic Community
February 16th, 2015

Topic Community
February 12th, 2015

The Client Engagement Model has been going strong for a little over 90 days now. We have learned a lot about our clients as a result. Poverty has many faces, names, stories and cultural backgrounds, but our clients have so much in common. They want the best for their families, whether they have been struggling all their lives or recently have had some very bad luck. They want good jobs, they want their limited funds to go as far as possible and they want positive relationships that matter.

IMGP0520From the empowerment interviews, we have gotten a closer glimpse at hope in the eyes of clients. They realize we can help them get a job or we can help them save some money on food or heating, so they can get essentials for themselves or their children. They can learn computer skills or finally get health insurance. We can point them in the right direction to get more affordable housing or safe, economical child care. It is a great opportunity to support people in moving their lives to a more stable place.

Our program participation has significantly increased now that we are sitting and talking about our client families’ needs and how we can help them meet those needs. People are glad they have had an opportunity to take steps to make positive things happen. Empowerment interviews are the reason these situations have occurred. I like to look at it as double support: we’re providing food, which is the immediate need, and we’re providing programs and services for long-term needs.

Job coach 2When it comes down to it, our Empowerment Team volunteers believe it’s a great way to serve.

Our next task to address is outcomes and tracking. We believe it’s important to see progress, check up on clients, and let them know we are always here for them. Every 90 days, volunteers will contact clients who we served, inquiring about programs and referrals that were recommended to them. It’s one thing to say, “yeah I gave Ms. Jones a referral here and a referral there,” but it’s more important to show Ms. Jones that we not only care about her immediate needs (food), but we also care about her becoming self-sufficient. We want our actions, not just words, to show her we truly care.

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs

February 11th, 2015