Blog

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 dramonas@loaves-fishes.org. 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 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

February 11th, 2015

February 5th, 2015

Everybody wants to feel valued. When I speak, I want my remarks to be noticed. If I participate, I want my efforts to matter. But present day conveniences allow for inertia to leave me feeling fully engaged. Checking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, emails, texts, Instagram and auto reminders from several meet up groups…I am blitzed with interaction – all this from the predawn comfort of my bed!  Choosing between cozy fireside TV binge watching or getting out into the cold winter air to grow my character… I admit I want external validation!!!

This public admission from the director of a robust volunteer program, 1,500 members strong and growing? Blasphemy!  I am a paid cheerleader for stepping out of my safety zone, driving to a building filled with strangers and working on behalf of people you don’t know. Volunteering is it’s own reward, right? As I perused the archives of E-volunteerism (an international volunteer association), Googled “volunteering”, surfed through LinkedIn’s Association of Volunteer Managers and finally reviewed McClelland & Atkinson’s Model for Motivation(1964), I came to the conclusion that predictable volunteer behaviors are – unpredictable!

A common theory in professional volunteer motivation is to reward or celebrate the volunteer cohort. At Loaves & Fishes, we serve people who are struggling to overcome food insecurity and are working to achieve self-sufficiency. As volunteers learn of their situations, it can be heart-wrenching. Therefore, I create happy reasons for volunteers to return. The Gold Star Club is for those that have given 100+ hours in a 12 month period, and our “Top 5” is a monthly list of volunteers with the most hours contributed.

1554566_10152328924582426_1936597637973472773_nParties are a great way to celebrate the efforts of our volunteers. Our annual picnic boasts food, drink, music, and prizes. For Volunteer Appreciation Week 2014, we honored our volunteers by throwing pizza parties, presenting a gratitude video and creating a rotating photo wall. Also in the past year, we have invited our volunteers to baseball outings, shows at the theater, beer festivals, 18 holes of golf and bowling. Our building is no longer filled with strangers, we have become better acquainted with each other to create a friendly atmosphere.

But are these celebrations what brings our volunteers back?  Are the parties, gold stars, and frequent group outings what spurs a 91 year old man to volunteer for 3 hours of standing as he passes out food? Does a family of 5 return every week to volunteer outside in parking, at a table sorting vegetables or restocking shelves because they can earn a gold star? When I see a working mom volunteering with their busy teen, I know they don’t have time to come to our socials….yet they keep coming back.

Maybe volunteering really is it’s own reward.

Shelly Schmitz
Director of Volunteer Engagement

January 27th, 2015

Summer squash The beginning of the year is a natural time to think about goals for the future, and personally speaking, health goals always seem to be at the top of my list. In fact, many of us are realizing the impact of our day-to-day food choices on overall health, and the importance of being proactive in developing a healthy lifestyle. More than ever before, the time has come to do something about the behaviors that are contributing to obesity and other chronic conditions.

What will that mean for Loaves & Fishes, and how are we planning to support our community members who are having a difficult time just paying the bills? We are thinking holistically about health and wellness. Our Nutrition and Wellness program centers around four focus areas that help to build a healthy lifestyle.

CaptureThis diagram represents these four areas: (1) dietary supplements, (2) nutrition education, (3) distribution enhancement, and (4) support services that reinforce wellness efforts.

Through our Nutrition Supplement initiatives, I would like to dig a little deeper into the needs of our special populations. Over the last few years, Loaves & Fishes has been able to nutritionally strengthen the nutritive quality and variety of the foods we provide to our families – something that has been particularly important to our clients. We are also focused on the needs of school age children and infants, knowing that adequate nutrition during those critical years of development can make a difference throughout a lifetime. We will enhance those efforts for preschoolers, and even for our growing population of seniors.

ESLNutrition education is a cornerstone for changing food behavior, but an especially challenging area in many ways. Families experiencing chaotic and unstable circumstances in their life are not easily convinced that they can take control of their diet. These families are over-stressed, sharing the family car, running from one job to another, and still trying to please a toddler. We will need to put nutrition information at easy reach: in waiting areas, shopping aisles and registration points. We also plan to offer more traditional classroom education opportunities in areas of interest. Families who have struggled with food insecurity for long periods of time, even for several generations, are particularly vulnerable to diabetes, and chronic conditions related to improper diet. We have partnered with Midwestern University, Chicago College of Pharmacy, to offer free sessions about diabetes, and how to avoid this pitfall during the difficult times. Our first group discussions will start in January, and we’ll include free blood pressure and blood glucose screening for community members.

photo-smart2-webOur food distributions will be another opportunity to improve nutrition and reinforce healthy lifestyles. We will continue to look for ways to help our clients easily identify and choose healthy food items through our Smart Check program. We’ll be considering ways to offer a more comfortable shopping experience, present foods that emphasize healthier selections, and encourage healthy behaviors like menu planning. Our distribution process is a perfect point of impact for clients, and we will be taking full advantage of it.

Surrounding nutrition initiatives with other wellness efforts like healthcare sign-up, flu shots and dental clinics is a best practice model, and I’m happy to see many community members accessing those support services at Loaves & Fishes. In the fourth focus area, we will continue to promote healthful lifestyles, like growing your own garden, in the year to come.

All of these avenues collectively will build an environment of support and security for our clients and their families – and help everyone keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Jane Macdonald
Director of Nutrition & Wellness

January 27th, 2015

You may recall in October, Loaves & Fishes celebrated Jody’s Bender’s 11th year anniversary. Throughout her tenure, Jody has been witness to the evolution of Loaves & Fishes thanks, in part, to her growth as a community ambassador. For this reason, we are both happy and sad to share that Jody will be joining her husband, Jack, as they move to Michigan so Jack can accept an incredible professional opportunity.

1016949_10152033550680583_8248703515624840125_n“Although I will miss my Loaves & Fishes family and friends tremendously, the professional opportunity Jack was presented with was too wonderful to refuse. We look forward to embarking on this new adventure in the coming weeks and celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this summer.”

It is not uncommon for Jody’s name to enter the conversation when discussing Loaves & Fishes in the Naperville community. After moving to Naperville in 2002, Jody learned about Loaves & Fishes the following year and immediately felt compelled to join the staff as an administrative assistant. As the organization expanded, so did her role. Her background in journalism made her an ideal fit for community relations, and despite being a self-described introvert, Jody launched Loaves & Fishes into the public eye. She has been a strong advocate for our organization and the people we serve, and by connecting to local leaders and organizations, Jody has paved the way for our collaborative partnerships and our current Power of Community campaign.

10399447_10152280014770583_4652027934113337939_n“Thanks so much to everyone who has made my 11-plus years at Loaves & Fishes such a fulfilling time in my life. Raising awareness of hunger and poverty in our community and being involved with the evolution of Loaves & Fishes has been such a gift to me. It will be exciting to watch Loaves & Fishes’ talented staff, board, and volunteers as they continue to expand the impact of its mission and services to our community. And of course, nowhere could possibly compare to Naperville and the many, many people I have come to know and love here!”

We are excited for Jody and Jack as they enter into a new chapter of their lives, and we look forward to continuing Jody’s legacy of kind, compassionate service in the community.

“It is hard to see Jody go, but we are all very happy to hear Jack’s great news,” said Megan Selck, Interim President & CEO. “The Benders have been supportive of Loaves & Fishes for so long, and we are so grateful for their generosity. The community will surely miss them both a great deal!”

January 27th, 2015


If we go by the usual stereotypes, we think poverty exist only in certain major cities such as Chicago south and west side, South Central Los Angeles, the 5th Ward in Houston, Texas, Bronx, New York, etc. Yes there is a population that truly lives in poverty in these cities. For some, it’s even been a generational curse, passed on from several decades ago that started in the early 1900’s and remain present for families now in 2015. But there’s one place that gets ignored each and every time when discussing poverty; a place that’s outside of major cities and not able to deal with the influx of the poor. In the past, it was designed for families of the middle class to escape residing around the poor in the inner cities: the suburbs!

clientsDemo2014In the past, the suburbs were known as the “you made it” signature, meaning you’re successful in life because you now reside in an area that many people can’t afford. You’re of the Middle Class and possibly on your way to upper class or already there. The suburbs were supposed to be home to the good schools, manicured lawns, and quiet streets. Not anymore. An epidemic has occurred. The suburbs are now the home to the poor, low-income working class who find themselves stranded without access to transit for employment or other resources. How did this occur and when did this take place?

Across the United States, almost 16.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line between the years 2000-2011. That’s an increase of 159%. To me, poor people living in the suburbs isn’t so much the bad thing. The bad thing is the lack of jobs, access to jobs, affordable housing, and nurturing schools. For some odd reason, many in power are surprised at how the suburbs have changed over the years but many aren’t taking accountability of having a strong hand in the decline.

House prices have become so expensive in the inner-city that it purposely pushes many low-income families to the suburbs. The lower economic class moved to the suburbs with housing vouchers but that was it. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, 79% of housing vouchers were used in the suburbs. So basically, the concentrated poor or low-income working class were moved to an area that lacked more resources than what they previously had living in the city. Some say, “Well at least they received housing vouchers”! Really? There is so much more to consider.

20140416_144248Lack of resources will help poverty thrive. How can one get to their job if they relied on public transportation in the past and there’s no transit system that’s reliable? How can a person make a living if they are pushed to an area where businesses don’t exist? How can a person receive any mental or psychological assistance if three quarters of suburban nonprofits are seeing clients with no previous connection to safety-net programs? Funding streams are drying up and more funding will be cut. The suburbs are becoming overwhelmed with demand. We are now dealing with the working poor as our neighbors.

Many Americans, who live in half-million to over a million dollar homes, are just one paycheck away from poverty. Actually, one CRISIS away from experiencing poverty and many don’t even know it. According to CFED’s Assets and Opportunities Scorecard, nearly half of households in the US have less than three months’ worth of savings. What causes poverty? Besides generational curse: events, crisis, and other traumatic and unexpected financial events.

What are my recommendations to decrease suburban poverty? Create bus lines, affordable and low-interest car loans, free English courses, variety of school programs, more jobs in suburban areas, and financial literacy education. The majority who are considered poor or low-income don’t want handouts as some might believe. They want the opportunity to improve their circumstances, particularly in housing and financially, because they will take advantage of programs being offered. The programs must be offered so they can have access, not be pushed away from the resources, as what has happened with the suburban poverty epidemic in the last 10 years. This can’t be the American Way. Or can it be?

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs

December 18th, 2014

Charles McLimans and Megan Selck pose together with Megan's son, Drew, at the Volunteer PicnicOn Monday, December 8th, we announced a transition of leadership put into motion by the resignation of President and CEO Charles McLimans. Charles, who has led Loaves & Fishes since 2008, has accepted the CEO position at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, part of a nationwide network of food banks with which we are closely affiliated. According to a succession plan developed over the past few years, Megan Selck will step up from her role as Vice President and Chief Development Officer at Loaves & Fishes to serve as interim President and CEO until the Board of Directors appoints a permanent replacement.

“As much as we are saddened to see Charles leave, we also recognize that this is a tremendous opportunity for him and an exciting and natural next step in his career,” said Peggy Beata, Board of Directors Chair. “He is a dedicated advocate in the fight against hunger and we look forward to continuing to partner with him as our organizations work toward their shared goal of ending hunger across America.”

Charles began his association with Loaves & Fishes as a volunteer in 2006, and two years later was asked by the Board of Directors to become the organization’s leader. For the past seven years, he has successfully worked with the board of directors to inspire the organization’s visionary response to poverty issues affecting unprecedented numbers of suburban households.

Charles McLimans with Mayor Pradel, Loaves & Fishes board and staff at the grand opening of 1871 High Grove.During his tenure, we have continually grown to serve an increasing number of families throughout the Chicagoland area. He became our leader just as the land acquisition was made for the development of our current facility at 1871 High Grove, and the expansion of our service area to include all of DuPage County.

“While it is bittersweet to leave my Loaves & Fishes family, I feel extremely positive about the health of the organization and the ability of the incredibly talented staff and dedicated Board of Directors to continue pursuing and realizing the growth objectives we have outlined for the future. The organization has never been in a better financial position and I have every confidence in Megan’s ability and passion to continue on the path that we have mapped out together over the past few years.”

Peggy Beata and Megan Selck pose with Deb du Vair of the DuPage Community Foundation.

Peggy Beata and Megan Selck pose with Deb du Vair of the DuPage Community Foundation.

Working side-by-side with Charles since 2012, Megan is well-poised to take on her new position and responsibilities. Building upon her success in previous leadership roles – including several years heading income development for the American Cancer Society, she has been instrumental in launching our first public Power of Community campaign. She also has been integral in the development of our long-term strategic plan.

We hope you will help us wish Charles a fond farewell on Wednesday, January 7th. Our Board of Directors will be hosting an open house from 5-7 pm as a send off to Charles.

December 18th, 2014

givingtuesFB7
What began as an exciting Giving Tuesday was soon complicated when our online donation portal, handled by a third party vendor, continuously crashed, resulting in delays and frustration for many people interested in donating. Despite the complications, our dedicated donors raised $115,414.30, which smashed the original $60,000 goal we set!

St. Raphael's parishioners stopped by to drop off checks in honor of Giving Tuesday.

St. Raphael’s parishioners stopped by to drop off checks in honor of Giving Tuesday.

Quick background: Following on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday started in 2012 as a new holiday tradition on the east coast and has quickly grown in popularity among non-profit organizations across the country. As its name suggests, Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages philanthropy to kick off the holiday season. Last year, our supporters raised $72,147.89 on Giving Tuesday. When combined with a $25,000 match from an anonymous donor, the total was nearly $100,000. This year, we secured $60,000 in donations from two sources, raising the earning potential to $120,000 because each dollar donated would be matched.

By 10:00 am on Tuesday, December 2nd, donations had exceeded $20,000; however, we were soon flooded with calls regarding the donation portal crash, and staff and volunteers were fielding phone calls about the problem (shout out to our incredible volunteer receptionists who helped maintain control of the phones!). Thanks to the quick thinking of our friends from LCWA, we set up an account on a different platform to accept donations while also taking donations over the phone. After speaking with the matching donors, we decided to extend Giving Tuesday efforts into Wednesday, calling the day “Giving Twos-day,” since many donors who were interested in giving were unable to on Tuesday due to the crash.

10850302_10152460279925583_6326167119503206952_nWe are excited to report that $115,414.30 was raised, and with the $60,000 match, Giving Tuesday and Giving Twos-day efforts totaled $175,414.30. This funding will be used to expand our nutrition options for children age 0-18. We anticipate serving 10,000 local children in 2015, and with this funding, we will be able to purchase milk, eggs and other healthy food items for families with children.

“The outpouring of generosity has been inspiring,” said Charles P. McLimans. “Even with technical delays, donors were determined to give; I am so thankful for their patience and for the staff and volunteers who jumped in to take calls and find alternate solutions. I also want to thank our matching donors, The J.R. Albert Foundation and our anonymous donor, for allowing us to extend the deadline into ‘Giving Twos-day’ and allow more supporters to get involved. This effort will greatly benefit local kids in our community by providing them with the nutrition they need to grow and learn.”