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Supporting the community this holiday season

Supporting the community this holiday season

For many, the holiday season welcomes feasts surrounded by friends, family and loved ones. For others, it is a struggle to put food on the table.

In Sangamon County alone, nearly one in eight individuals are food insecure, according to the state foodbank association, Feeding Illinois. From that number, three percent are homeless, and many do not qualify for food stamps or government assistance.

To help support community members in need, the UIS Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center partnered with the Central Illinois Foodbank to raise awareness for their hunger-relief efforts, and get students and faculty involved in the cause.

The Central Illinois Foodbank is a nonprofit organization in Springfield, serving 21 counties, with 160 organizations and agencies in central Illinois. The foodbank employs a staff of 14 members and has a 22,000 square foot warehouse that holds 700,000 pounds of food and goods, for three to four weeks at a time.

Public Relations Manager Kaleigh Friend said, “When we first started, we were at Brother James’ Montessori… and had 200 pounds of apple cobbler.” Friend added that when the organization began in 1987, the foodbank processed roughly 800,000 pounds of food that year, and this year in 2012, she says that they are on track to process 8.5 million pounds of food, with 1.5 million pounds of that being fresh produce.

As part of a growing network to fight hunger in America, the Central Illinois Foodbank works with local and regional organizations, the USDA and Feeding America. These organizations provide various donations including fresh produce, non-perishable goods, non-grocery items and toiletries. The foodbank itself then acts as a distributer to its 160 affiliated agencies, two feeding sites and six mobile pantries. All goods are distributed in pounds and cost the agencies 11-19 cents per pound to cover maintenance fees associated with the deliveries. The facility delivers 60 percent of all donations, with orders of 500 pounds or more per delivery.

“One of the things we do is a mobile pantry, and we do them in six counties,” said Friend. “We bring a truck with about 12,000 pounds of food into the area and we open it up to anyone with need.”

She added that because the people in need are often common citizens with jobs, homes, and families, they are often embarrassed to receive aid. However, the mobile pantry program is open to anyone with need, not requiring identification or proof of socioeconomic hardship. Friend said that one of the goals of the foodbank is to offer a “normal” food experience for individuals in need, encouraging the “choice method,” much like that of a grocery store to eliminate the bagged distribution of food. The foodbank also works to teach individuals how to eat fresh, healthy and even new foods – offering recipes during mobile pantry hostings.

Just as the Central Illinois Foodbank has worked to eliminate hunger in the area, the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center is doing their part to promote hunger awareness on campus. On Oct. 31, the center hosted its 5th annual Trick-or-Treat for Canned Goods. Nearly 150 staff, faculty, and students, on 15 teams, worked together to collect a total of roughly 7,000 pounds of food for the Central Illinois Foodbank, according to director Mark Dochterman.

“We raised 6,600 actual pounds of food at the event, and then there was a little over $100 that people raised, and we count that as $1 a pound,” said Dochterman. “In the following days we collected a couple hundred more pounds [of food], so we are right at 7,000 pounds.”

Dochterman added that this year, the Trick-or-Treat for Canned Goods event is part of a larger effort called the Holiday Stars Program. This program was formerly its own individual effort in past years, collecting canned goods for the Central Illinois Foodbank. However, this year the Holiday Stars Program refers to the efforts that began with Trick-or-Treat for Canned Goods.

It also includes Toiletries for Troops in Nov. with American Legion #32, and Gifts Under the Tree in Dec. with the Central Illinois Foodbank. Each effort throughout this three-month period works to collect food and other necessities for community members and veterans who need assistance throughout the holiday months.

“The idea is that Holiday Stars… is supposed to hit three specific communities that could use a boost in the holiday season. You’ve got the people who make use of the Central Illinois Foodbank, you’ve got local veterans, and then you’ve got student families. Those are all groups of people that I think could use a little bump around the holiday season. It also makes it more personal. If we are able to do this Gifts Under the Tree event, it separates it [from typical food drives]. It’s not a charity case; it’s more of a sense of community around the holiday season,” said Dochterman.

In addition to the Holiday Stars Program, the Volunteer and Civic Engagement center is also participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, alongside the Central Illinois Foodbank. The week runs from Nov. 10 through Nov. 18, one week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Both the center and the foodbank chalked the quad with hunger and homelessness statistics on Monday Nov. 12. UIS also hosted an ECCE speaker series event Nov. 13 titled, “Give a Damn?” where students were given an insight and new perspective on poverty in local communities first hand. The events wrap up Nov. 14 with the Faces of the Homeless Panel, co-sponsored by Lincoln Land Community College, which hopes to conquer the stigmas and stereotypes associated with the homeless community.

For more information or to get involved with the many hunger related causes in the community, visit www.centralillinoisfoodbank.org or www.uis.edu/volunteer.

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