By Harsha Talappa, Loaves & Fishes Intern When I walked into Loaves & Fishes last year, it was because I had absolutely nothing to do in the summer and my parents insisted that if I wasn’t going to find a job, I should at ‘least’ volunteer. I honestly didn’t think much of the physical place at first. Loaves & Fishes was a pair of warehouses located behind Naperville North High School. One of the warehouses had pallets stacked high and two rooms: one for our office workers and one as a volunteer break room. The break room was used for meetings, training sessions, and volunteer breaks, but was simply too small to handle all of these roles sufficiently. The office room was always cramped. It was a small room, only slightly larger than my bedroom at home. The major difference between the office and my bedroom, though, was that three or four people always worked in the office, while my bedroom at home supported just me. As you should imagine, the staff of Loaves & Fishes worked in tight quarters. The distribution process, which I was told had seen improved efficiency over the previous few years, remained difficult for volunteers to manage and clients to attend. The client waiting area felt cloistered and lacked air conditioning. I felt the intense heat of Midwest summer days on many afternoons working there. Wayne, the volunteer (still) in-charge of distributing queue numbers to the clients, always had to manage the small area to ensure there was space for all of the clients, which there often wasn’t, and Dan, the volunteer unenviably tasked with managing the parking lot, rarely had a day when he didn’t have to ask clients to move their cars to one of the few spaces. Despite these shortcomings, however, the warehouses that comprised Loaves & Fishes were animated by the people who gave long hours of sweltering summer months to donate their time to our clients. The staff never lost sight of the Loaves & Fishes vision—“to end hunger in our community.” The volunteers were unfailingly polite, a sentiment that was echoed loudly and clearly in the client survey we conducted during my time there. Towards the end of my first internship at Loaves & Fishes, I began to hear murmurs that Charles and the board were pushing for a new building… …And the dream became a reality. In February of this year, our new facility at 1871 High Grove was christened. I returned during my spring break towards the end of April, I saw it for myself. I almost had trouble believing my eyes. Perhaps the most significant improvement was the new distribution area, now structured with shelves like you would find in a grocery store aisle. The new system allows our clients to feel more empowered when moving through the shopping area when compared to our old system. For the first time during this visit, I witnessed the brand new warehouse area. I saw Jerry, our warehouse supervisor, as happy as a kid in a candy shop; he had a much larger warehouse area, a full walk-in cooler, and a forklift! Another enormous improvement over the previous facility is the air-conditioned client waiting area. Just last week, in the midst of the Midwest heat wave, I saw a waiting area full of clients taking refuge from the 100-plus degree weather outside. The office, once too small for personal space, now has four separate rooms and five cubicles, capable of sustaining a full office staff. The physical changes between the old warehouses and the new building are far too much count. The distribution process has changed for the better, too. An electronic numbering system allows Wayne to do his job far more efficiently. He no longer has to yell out numbers. At the end of the distribution area, there is a table for clients to pack groceries into boxes and bags. Outside, clients generally no longer have to park as far as a block away, as our parking area has expanded greatly, from 12 to 52 total spaces. Volunteers also have a parking area. All-in-all, our ability to serve our client population has become far more effective and, I daresay, more enjoyable for all parties involved. As our service area has expanded to include all of DuPage County, we continue to push towards ending hunger in our community. The differences that are apparent since the move do not encompass one key area: our volunteers. Our volunteers are the same smiling, joking, dedicated people they were before the move. Most of our volunteers have stayed with us, and we have added many more. Their exceptional work has allowed Loaves & Fishes to transition from the old location to the new one with ease. Since I have been back, I have seen a Loaves & Fishes that continues to take its goal of ending hunger very seriously. With the new facility, we can come closer to making that goal a reality.
The Virtual Backpack Drive conducted online from July 18-31 resulted in generous donations that allowed Loaves & Fishes to purchase an additional 500 backpacks for students entering Grades K-12. These backpacks joined the many school supplies collected by Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, which has spearheaded this effort for the past 10 years. On Saturday, August 6th, Loaves & Fishes distributed 600 backpacks and school supplies kits at our first Back2School Fair, which was attended by more than 350 families. Several of our partners were on hand to provide information to students and their families. Samaritan Interfaith offered creative arts therapy and information on dealing with bullying, Literacy DuPage gave away books, Naperville Police Department provided safety tips, DuPage Health Department covered the importance and correct procedure for hand-washing, Benedictine University distributed information on school nutrition basics, District 203 talked to clients about planning for higher education, Open Door offered benefit information, and Sharing Connections offered referrals for furniture and clothing. Donated raffle prizes included Great Clips haircuts and haircut coupons, Supercuts haircuts, gift certificates for a 6” Subway sandwich, a gallon of milk at Aldi, and passes to the DuPage Children’s Museum. On Monday, August 8th, volunteers led by Nancy Couch of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church assembled another 1,000 school supplies kits. We will distribute them through August 20th during all food pick-up sessions. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this possible!
By Michael Snydel, Loaves & Fishes Intern Working as an intern this summer at Loaves & Fishes has been an enlightening experience, but it could have just as easily never happened. Last summer, I searched in vain for any form of employment. I probably applied to over 50 different places, and while some stores asked for an in-store interview or inquired into my actual availability, most balked at the prospect of a three-month summer employee. In this day and age, it’s more blind luck than anything else to be hired for a part-time job, especially when you’re in direct competition with adults and lack flexibility in your hours. Even without the looming economic reality, jobs are still an out-of-reach luxury for most teenagers. Eventually, after hours of fruitless searching and seemingly endless rejection, I was prodded out of the house to find productive activity. Loaves & Fishes was the first place I visited. My parents had heard positive word of mouth about Loaves & Fishes, and they thought it would be a good opportunity for me to gain some work experience. At first, I thought I would volunteer a few hours here and there in the warehouse, but as the summer carried on, I found myself volunteering more frequently until I consistently averaged around 15 to 20 hours a week. I began to feel very comfortable in the warehouse, building camaraderie with many of the regular volunteers. More than simple friendship, though, I started to feel a real attachment to the pantry, I felt an obligation to put forth my best effort and work the hardest I could in the time I volunteered. I’m not quite sure when the next part happened, but at some point in the summer the executive director, Charles McLimans, noticed me as a frequent volunteer. He took me aside and asked me whether I would be interested in an internship the subsequent summer. My point is that this lead-up revealed something profound to me: Nothing ever just happens; everything in life requires a push. Good things don’t just happen because you’re a good person or vice versa. That’s not to say I was sleepwalking through my life, but I always felt a sense of waiting, as if something pivotal would occur of its own accord at any moment. It may sound positively simplistic, but it’s not until this summer that I really understood the impact of this idea. This revelation led me to realize that Loaves & Fishes doesn’t simply offer food; it’s about a much bigger and broader idea. The food and groceries we offer are certainly essential and necessary, but they’re only part of our true goal. Loaves & Fishes ultimately seeks to be a catalyst for people to take control of their lives and move forward. Loaves & Fishes offers stability and a chance for our clients to take a step back and figure out their next step. Loaves & Fishes doesn’t want clients to settle into the groove of accepting food if other options are available to them; we want to spur real change in a person’s life. Unlike most other businesses, we’re not looking for lifelong clients; in fact we want just the opposite. We want to continually lower the number of people who are hurting in the community. As our slogan states, Loaves & Fishes seeks to end hunger and empower lives. Ending hunger is important, but the key lies in the empowerment goal. As the ancient proverb goes, “Give a man a fish, you have him fed for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have him fed for a lifetime.”