November 15th, 2014

What is the true unemployment rate in Illinois? Are you accounted for in the true unemployment number?

Image credit: Suzanne Tucker /

Image credit: Suzanne Tucker /

According to recent reports, the Illinois working-age population has grown by nearly 300,000 since the recession; however the Illinois workforce has shrunk 226,000 over the same period. This indicates there’s a gap of more than 500,000 working-age Illinoisans who either dropped out of the workforce or never entered it. Many reports are made on numerous news channels that the unemployment rate is in the range of 7-10%, fluctuating daily. I truly believe the lower reported number of unemployment, the more positive those in office look at bringing jobs to Illinois. But there’s a huge number that some believe are either purposely not counted for or overlooked because of circumstances.

According to Michael Lucci, “to draw a more accurate indicator from employment data, it is necessary to address not only those who are currently unemployed, but also the missing 500,000 Illinoisans, along with those who are employed part time for economic reasons.” When placing all that I just mentioned into the equation, the alternative unemployment rate for Illinois, which includes long term unemployed, Michael says, “is as high as 18.1 percent.” He continues, “Illinois is on pace to recover in September 2021, a full seven years from now which should have policymakers pause, considering the fact Illinois is regularly listed as one of the least competitive states in the U.S. for economic policy by both CEO’s and small-business owners.” This is alarming: truly 18 percent of our population is unemployed. That’s an extremely high number. Solutions must be put in place because as the working-age population increases, it is necessary for the workforce to increase along with it.

Job coach 2At Loaves & Fishes, we have partnered with Community Career Center to take a proactive and educational approach to assist people in enhancing their professional career. Our goal is to prepare people as best possible to secure the job they need in order be self-sufficient. Our “Job Search” team provides resume educational tips, resume writing, networking techniques, and interview training to anyone daily. We have six job coach volunteers meeting with people daily assisting in job searching, installing confidence and skills necessary for people to get back into the workforce and be competitive. Since the start of FY 15, a total of 64 people have met with a job coach with 90% having secured job interviews and over 60% gaining employment. As we approach the upcoming new calendar year, we are increasingly receiving more inquiries from potential volunteers weekly who wish to be a part of our Job Coach team.

I am pleased that I am employed at Loaves & Fishes in being a solution to improve the circumstances of someone’s life. Clients are reacting to the unemployment epidemic with anxiety and are expressing fear of being homeless and not able to provide for their families. At the same time, they also express that they our thankful a place like Loaves & Fishes Community Services exists because they are receiving the assistance needed to prevent the true unemployment rate of Illinois at 18% from increasing.

What do you think of the unemployment rate in Illinois?

Duncan Ward
Director of Empowerment Programs

November 3rd, 2014

We were happy to receive this response from Ruth Dow regarding our recent post:

Your Join Team Eat It! is a great idea. My husband and I don’t need to keep track of our food waste. We do not have any. We do not allow food to spoil, but make sure to eat it before that happens. We don’t eat orange peels or banana peels, but eat most other fruit & veggie skins, and eat some parts that most people throw away—like broccoli stems. We put food on our plates before we sit down to the table and only occasionally get any more. Not much goes down our disposal (never edible food), and our trash for a week goes in a 1/2 gallon milk carton (or occasionally a little more). We recycle the rest.

We helped our church resume recycling, and a member picks it up each week to take to a city recycling center or residential recycling pickup. I write stewardship articles for our church newsletter each month and promote recycling the same way. We started an Earth Stewardship Sunday at our church near Earth Day and were delighted that the church now puts it on our church calendar every year. We ride our bikes when we go places within reasonable distances (to church, library and many others) all year except in snow or ice (and not intentionally in the rain!) Often our car is parked days or a week at a time, depending on weather.

We have a container garden on our apartment balcony (we’re still eating fresh lettuce from a container, which we bring inside on cold early November nights). We and a friend also share a community garden plot, freezing or giving away any extra to someone at church. When as volunteers we teach nutrition, gardening and solar cooking in Latin America and Africa, we emphasize using such resources well. These are simply choices we make, enabling us to have more to share with others like Loaves & Fishes, Northern Illinois Food Bank, and Feeding America.

Although we lived through most of the Great Depression, too young to remember much about it, undoubtedly that time affected us—who we are and what we do. My mother believed in the “clean plate club,” which is great as long as everyone starts with reasonable portions and then gets more if appropriate. Otherwise, it can lead to obesity. We tried to do the same with our family. We simply wish to demonstrate some ways people can use all kinds of resources better.

Again we applaud Loaves & Fishes for your initiative to reduce food waste and hope many people to sign on to the idea. I would like to help enlarge your audience if you would give permission to reprint your article in our church’s monthly newsletter.

~Ruth Dow

We would love to hear YOUR thoughts about our posts to include in our new Community Voices blog section! Just send your article or link to We look forward to hearing from you!

November 3rd, 2014

The Power of Community Campaign was created to help Loaves & Fishes achieve the goals set forth in our strategic plan, including programmatic growth. Thanks to our community’s support to date, Loaves & Fishes is piloting the Client Engagement Model, which will benefit more low-income families by focusing on food, prevention, education and wellness.

What is the Client Engagement Model?

Imagine having an opportunity to sit down with a client, discuss their family’s future goals, and create a plan to address the barriers that stand in the way of their success. That is what the Client Engagement Model will accomplish. We will integrate our Community Food & Nutrition Program and our Pathways to Empowerment programs to address hunger at the core.

How will this evolved model benefit low-income families?

Loaves & Fishes will strengthen our current relationships with clients. We will understand their needs, circumstances and motivations much better, and as a result, we will be able to serve them more effectively and solve their families’ barriers. Our Empowerment Specialists will determine a family’s current level of need using our Self-Sufficiency Assessment Scale. The scale will be crucial to tracking a client family’s progress and success (in ascending order):

  • Self-Sufficient: Household is stabilized and meeting needs for over 6 months.
  • Independent: Household is stabilized for 90 day period; currently meeting expenses, managing debt and achieving wellness lifestyles.
  • Stabilized: Household has stabilized income and housing; currently meets expenses but highly vulnerable to debt; needs occasional support in one of the focus areas.
  • Conditional Support: Inadequate income or resources to support family needs; need for supplemental resources (SNAP, WIC, LIHEAP, etc.); limited capacity in one or more of the focus areas.
  • Crisis: No income or employment; low resources; potential/immediate housing concerns.
    The Empowerment Specialists will create an action plan for a client family based on their barriers with a goal to move the family up the levels until they reach self-sufficiency. Overall, we believe this transformation will empower more client families and will create a sustainable solution to hunger that can be replicated nationwide.

    Why is this evolution important to our community?

    LOAVES AND FISHESThe suburbs are increasingly becoming the address of America’s poor. Suburban poverty across the country grew 53% between 2000 and 2010, more than twice the rate of urban poverty, according to the Brookings Institution. For the first time, more poor people live in the suburbs than in cities.

    According to a Social Impact Research Center study in 2012, 7.3% of DuPage County residents live in poverty and 17% are considered low income. As a result, more individuals cannot count on three daily meals. Feeding America’s research shows that 9.1% of DuPage County is food insecure; of this population, 16.4% are children. This is especially troubling considering the link between obesity and being low income. By introducing this model, Loaves & Fishes can impact the physical, mental and financial well-being of our low-income neighbors, which will benefit the community at large.

    How will you achieve success with this model?

    10302159_10152152700250583_4211104904876379955_nThanks to the Power of Community Campaign, Loaves & Fishes was able to hire Duncan Ward, who has more than 18 years of experience in social services, as our Director of Empowerment Programs to work in conjunction with Jane Macdonald, who is now the Director of Nutrition & Wellness. Ward will be responsible for training volunteers how to build trust and create measurable goals with client families. Through client feedback, he will determine if any programmatic revisions need to be made and will continue developing and overseeing outcomes pertaining to empowerment programs.

    Macdonald will be responsible for creating nutrition incentives to encourage clients to enroll in empowerment programs. This integration is essential to our program success since many clients do not understand how to participate in on-site, anti-poverty programs. Moreover, Macdonald will lead efforts to encourage nutritious choices and to educate client families about healthy eating on a budget, so when clients are no longer in need of our services, they are providing a well-balanced meal to their children.

    October 28th, 2014

    Loaves & Fishes is celebrating 30 years of service to the community this year, and on October 20th, I celebrated my eleventh year of service to Loaves & Fishes. It has been quite a journey of transformation and purpose for both our organization and me.

    DWH 08 (2)My first exposure to Loaves & Fishes occurred serendipitously in October 2003 after completing Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do With My Life?, something I hoped to discover. I noticed a tiny blind ad in the Naperville Sun for a part-time administrative assistant and faxed my credentials. Who knew that would begin a life-altering chain of events?

    At that time, Loaves & Fishes was located in bare-bones quarters in two non-adjacent warehouses in the complex behind Naperville North High School. The space was freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, which made keeping both people and donated product at an even temperature challenging. One particularly hot, humid day, we resorted to keeping racks of sweet corn fresh by emptying the break room that contained an air conditioner and rolling in the corn. It worked and we were able to share the donation with families coming the next day! The entire staff consisted of a full-time executive director, a part-time warehouse manager, and about 250 dedicated volunteers. Naperville CARES, which was then in its infancy, was crammed into a tiny space in the back next to the freezer. Much to my surprise, there were also numerous families in need of groceries at our doors each Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

    Bagged and ready to goVolunteers gave families groceries bagged according to proscribed lists, along with five pounds of meat and cheese, bread, produce if available, and a dessert. Once a family made it through the registration area, which was a long counter with no privacy to share private registration information, it was a pretty quick process to receive the food and leave. The bags contained little variety from visit to visit, and there was no opportunity to exchange products because of the need to keep the line moving. While our volunteers were, then as now, unfailingly cheerful, personalizing groceries was not an option.

    As the need for food assistance grew, our distribution hours lengthened, with Wednesday morning beginning in 2005 and Thursday evening added in January 2009. With the advent of the economic crisis, the lines out the door were longer than ever. Just a few months earlier, Client Choice debuted, allowing people to select the products they wanted in accordance with a points system based on family size. While the process took longer, families left satisfied with their food and the dignity afforded them. However, although their food needs were met, the root causes of poverty persisted unabated.

    Picture46The real turning point of Loaves & Fishes occurred in January 2011, when we opened this facility to provide access both to nutritious food and programming to address poverty-related issues. I will never forget entering the building the Saturday before our first week and walking through the receiving and warehouse areas, stopping to marvel at the coolers and freezers that would house produce and protein. Volunteers were busily preparing the area and stocking the shelves, when it hit me that we were finally realizing a long-held dream; aside from the facility, I also was grateful for waterproof mascara.

    In the nearly four years since that moment, Loaves & Fishes has offered real help and hope to families throughout DuPage County. We have built a system of partnerships that bring a panoply of empowerment programs onsite to help clients address issues and solve problems. Our staff of 19 and enough volunteers to replace 41 full-time equivalent employees has worked with our board of directors and community to assist record numbers of people with an approach that embodies our core values of community, compassion, dignity, hope, and service. These days, I work far more than my original 12 hours per week – at least 40 is the norm – but I am endlessly proud to represent Loaves & Fishes in the community as we continue our mission of ending hunger and empowering lives.


    Jody Bender
    Director of Community Engagement

    October 21st, 2014

    food_waste_40percentWere you a member of the clean plate club growing up? Did you always finish those suspect greens before getting dessert? According to recent reports, we are wasting food at an alarming rate. Sustainable America recently posted this infographic (on the right) that states “America wastes 40% of its food” which is problematic when considering the number of Americans who are food insecure. New data from the USDA shows 49 millions people are food insecure in the United States; of this population, 16 million are children! How can we be more conscientious of the amount of food we waste?

    Michael Erard, for Al Jazeera America, tracked his family’s food waste for a year by listing items that were thrown away, and the results were astonishing. Erard’s family (three members) threw away roughly 92 pounds of food. As he says, “Before we didn’t want to think we wasted very much. Now, here it was rapidly filling up the pages, and it seemed like a lot.” It is difficult to comprehend how a family can waste 92 pounds of food, but Erard’s narration is similar to our everyday food waste. For instance, he talks about how a lot of his family’s waste was kid-related because recreating previous day favorites was rejected the following day. Or how leftovers in the refrigerator eventually spoiled. We are all guilty of allowing food to go bad.

    Tristram Stuart, Founder of Feedback Global and the Feeding the 5000 campaign  Credit: Kat Keene Hogue, National Geographic Creative

    Tristram Stuart, Founder of Feedback Global and the Feeding the 5000 campaign Credit: Kat Keene Hogue, National Geographic Creative

    While chronicling your family’s food waste is an excellent way to understand the issue, this is a global problem, so how can we work to reduce food waste together? Some activists have begun revolutionizing the food industry by introducing new ways of thinking. For example, Tristram Stuart, one of National Geographic’s 2014 Emerging Explorers, successfully campaigned for the sale of “ugly fruit” or fruit and vegetables that do not meet strict cosmetic standards in the U.K. Rajesh “Raj” Karmani, Founder and Chief Impact Officer at Zero Percent in Chicago, has created an online platform for easy, reliable and safe donations of surplus, nutritious food from local restaurants and grocers.

    Refrigerator ProduceAt Loaves & Fishes, we collaborated with local grocers to rescue 2,808,400 pounds of food last year, which was a 44% increase over the previous year. Based on this poundage, we estimate that we recovered $7,975,856 of food from being wasted in our community. Moreover, when considering that nutritious food is getting more expensive, our food recovery model is essential to providing low-income individuals with healthy options.

    Over the next week, list all the food you throw away then add it up and share your total with Loaves & Fishes on Facebook or Twitter. We would love to hear how the experience impacted you, and we hope you will join us on #TeamEatIt!

    September 30th, 2014

    According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate decreased between 2012 and 2013; however, the Census Bureau explains that the number in poverty in 2013 was not statistically different from 2012. What does this mean for Americans currently facing financial barriers, though, and more importantly, what can be done to help families overcome these barriers?

    LOAVES AND FISHESUSA Today’s Eric McWhinnie responded to these findings by identifying five reasons why these barriers continue to exist: median household income, wealth accumulation, employment-to-population ratio, food stamps and wages. At Loaves & Fishes, we have seen first-hand how these barriers contribute to our neighbors’ lack of financial stability. For example, the median household income for our clients last year was $14,400, and 8,250 clients of working age were unemployed.

    While these numbers provide insight into our clients’ financial barriers, Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator at Children’s HealthWatch, paints a broader picture and demonstrates how poverty impacts families, especially children. “Children in families who experience the most basic level of material hardships associated with poverty – not enough nutritious food, inadequate or inconsistent access to lighting, heating or cooling, and unstable housing – suffer negative health and development effects, which constrain the next generation’s opportunities to live healthy lives as successful participants in education and the workforce.” Thus, the cycle of poverty continues and creates more strain on our economy now and in the future.

    LOAVES AND FISHESMany non-profit organizations, like Loaves & Fishes, have set out to create pathways to financial stability. We are preparing to launch our Client Engagement Model, which will integrate our grocery assistance service with educational and prevention programs to address our clients’ barriers. Loaves & Fishes volunteers will meet with client families to create care plans that will involve participation in job search support, skill-based classes (computer, financial literacy, nutrition, English as a Second Language), public benefit assistance, mental health counseling and legal solutions.

    By creating care plans for client families, Loaves & Fishes will transition from a “serve” to “solve” organization by increasing clients’ job marketability, skill knowledge and, ideally, self-sufficiency across a continuum. Moreover, we propose that more organizations on the frontlines of combating poverty should evolve programming to address the root causes of issues such as hunger.

    As Dr. Frank states, “Children in poverty cannot wait for the slow recovery from the 2009 recession to finally arrive. We need to expand and protect programs to keep all our children nourished, warm and safely housed.” We, as a community and nation, need to implement programs that seek to solve poverty issues rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle.

    For full U.S. Census Report, click here.
    For full Eric McWhinnie article, click here.
    For full Dr. Deborah Frank article, click here.

    September 30th, 2014

    The first three facts listed in Rob Greenfield’s Huffington Post article, “The Food Waste Fiasco: You Have to See It to Believe it,” are jaw-drop worthy enough…

  • We throw away 165 billion dollars worth of food per year in America.
  • About 50 million of our 317 million Americans are food insecure yet we produce enough food to feed over 500 million Americans.
  • To create just the amount of food that ends up in the landfills we waste enough water to meet the domestic water needs of every American citizen.
    2014-09-28-2…but Rob, an eco-adventurer, environmental activist and entrepeneur, went a few steps further. Rob traveled the US relying almost entirely on food he found in dumpsters. The picture on the right is what Rob was able to salvage from grocery store dumpsters in Chicago.

    At Loaves & Fishes, we pride ourselves on our food recovery system, which involves partnerships with many local grocers. Last year, Loaves & Fishes rescued 2,808,400 pounds of food from these partners, which we value at $7,975,856. Nevertheless, Rob provides an incredible illustration of the flaws of our national food system, so make sure to check out the full article (Click Here) to see what he was able to collect in major cities throughout America.

    August 26th, 2014

    This summer, Loaves & Fishes welcomed Morrel Francis to the team to learn about the different facets of a non-profit organization. Morrel, who is now a senior at Naperville North High School, was an eager student and provided excellent feedback and insight as he worked with staff. We are excited to see what the future holds for Morrel, because this mature, intelligent young leader is sure to make a name for himself in whatever field he pursues. Here is what Morrel had to say about his experience at Loaves & Fishes:

    IMGP0134I knew even before my junior year ended that I wanted to do something over the summer that would be interesting and give me practical experience. I started asking around my high school for local internships in Naperville. At first I didn’t have much luck, but eventually I got an offer from the CTE director at my school about an opportunity at Loaves & Fishes. I had heard the name before but I was not sure what they did. I looked up the organization and decided that this would be an experience I could get a lot out of, so I contacted Megan Selck, the Vice President and Chief Development Officer, and we arranged to meet at Loaves & Fishes’ annual Day Without Hunger event. When my dad and I arrived at the event, both of us were very impressed with how well organized it was and how much there was to do. We met with Megan and Shelly (the Director of Volunteer Engagement) and arranged a date when I could start interning.

    On my first day at Loaves & Fishes, I got the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with the board of directors about expanding Loaves & Fishes into other communities. This was just one of the amazing experiences I had while interning. I also got to volunteer in distribution and give food to clients. While I was working in the warehouse with Alan and Cary, I sorted bread, meat, and vegetables, I took inventory of donated foods, and I was able to ride in a semi-truck to visit one of the stores that donates food to Loaves & Fishes.

    Morrel's luncheon 081914When I wasn’t working in the warehouse, I was working with the staff responsible for marketing, management, empowerment programs, or development. While working with them, I researched new places that Loaves & Fishes could expand to, thought of new programs for clients, and helped improve how Loaves & Fishes uses social media. By the time my summer ended, I had gained hands-on experience in marketing, finance, operations, volunteering, project development, empowerment programs, and executive management.

    When I think about my future I know that the experiences I had at Loaves & Fishes will be beneficial no matter what field I decide to go into. While I was at Loaves & Fishes, I had the opportunity to watch someone else give a professional interview, and I looked over the 2014-2015 financial statement. It gave me a better understanding of the organization. The experiences I had at Loaves & Fishes were amazing not only because of what I learned, but also because of the awesome people I was able to meet. I will never forget my time here.

    August 24th, 2014

    Where would you begin if you only had $4 to spend on a day’s worth of meals? Recent online articles have showcased this emerging dilemma that many individuals and families are facing on a daily basis. For instance, in “The Percentage Of Americans Who Can’t Afford Food Hasn’t Budged Since The Recession Peaked,” Hunter Stuart, of the Huffington Post, chronicles the diet of Jill Taormina and her family: Totino’s Pizza Rolls with a side of canned peas.

    Jill Taormina with her daughters. Credit: Benjamin Lehman, Huff Post

    Jill Taormina with her daughters. Credit: Benjamin Lehman, Huff Post

    In the article, Taormina, a mother of two, describes her barriers to creating a nutritious diet for her family, “‘I can only afford to spend about $100 a month on groceries. I coupon as much as I can, but it’s just not enough.'”

    Similarly, Brooke McLay discusses her grocery experience with Tori, also a mother of two; however, Tori is homeless. As McLay states, “Low-income Americans are traditionally struck in a deeply unfortunate food cycle. With meager funds, they rely on the cheapest food sources, which are those being subsidized by the government: soy, corn, and wheat. These inexpensive crops are turned into inexpensive foods, mixed with sugars and highly processed, leading to chronic health concerns like obesity, diabetes, and cancer.”

    Credit: Brooke McLay

    Credit: Brooke McLay

    After shopping with Tori on a $50 budget, McLay realizes that “nearly every item under $5 is a shelf-stable item. Most of it processed, canned, or packaged…The two grocery items over $5? Fresh produce…If $11 of apples equals two snacks but $3 in Ramen will feed her entire family for dinner, how can she possibly pick apples with her limited food stamp budget? And how will she ever afford to fill half of every mealtime plate with fruits and veggies, the amount recommended by the same government that issued her food stamps?”

    These articles are effective in building awareness for this emerging problem in America; however, is there anything that low-income individuals can do to maintain a nutritious diet for themselves and their families? According to Molly Roberts’ article, “Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How To Eat Well On A Food Stamp Budget,” there is. Roberts tells the story of Leanne Brown, a student who recognized that Americans on food stamps were eating lots of processed foods and set out to create a cookbook full of recipes that anyone could make on $4 a day.

    Credit: Leanne Brown

    Credit: Leanne Brown

    According to Roberts, Brown’s cookbook, Good and Cheap “is free online and has been downloaded over 200,000 times since she posted it on her website in early June. A July Kickstarter campaign also helped Brown raise $145,000 to print copies for people without computer access.”

    Food insecurity is an emerging issue, and if we continue to work together to build awareness for our low-income neighbors, we can change more lives and benefit our community. Let’s be proactive, just like Leanne Brown, and find innovative solutions to address this issue.

    For Hunter Stuart’s full article, click here.
    For Brooke McLay’s full article, click here.
    For Molly Roberts’ full article, click here.

    August 21st, 2014

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    Between July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, 1,561 volunteers donated 85,686 hours – the equivalent of 41 full-time employees! This hard work had to be celebrated, so we gathered at the Naperville Grand Pavilion with nearly 300 volunteers to enjoy music (from Belgio’s), food (from Gregg Eisel), and some fun yard games.

    Shelly Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Engagement, and Hilary Nelson, Volunteer Coordinator, created some special awards for the event. In case you missed them, here were the awards and winners:

    The Brady Bunch Award: The Mackh Family: Tracy, Charlie, Katie and Kevin
    The Newcomer Award: Beverly Nelson
    The Out-STANDING Outside Award: Gary Lund
    The Power Couple Award – John and Marlyn Steury
    The Mass Marketer Award – Fernando Fernandez
    The Rising Star Award – Julia Nauman
    The Backstage Manager Award – Marsha Howting
    The Warm Heart Frozen Hands Award – Terry Polivka
    The Saturday Superstar Award – Valerie Talsky

    Special thanks to Rick Wagner, who snapped pics of the celebration, Carl Schnibben, the Naperville Park Police Chief, Dagmar Kauffman, who perfectly designed and decorated the picnic, and Bob Elazan, who helped set up and deliver a cheerful beverage service. We can’t wait till next year’s picnic!