Food Bank Celebrates 40 Years
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
June 1, 2023
ROCKFORD   AND BEYOND—Joan Kelley, a member of the Northern Illinois Food Bank Planned Giving Advisory Council and Campaign UNITE co-chair, was sold on the ministry on her first visit to the food bank where she noticed an eight-year-old boy the moment he saw a display of peanut butter.
His eyes lit up, she explained at a Founder’s Day gathering on May 18 in honor of the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s 40th anniversary. The boy grabbed his mother and told her, “Mom, they have peanut butter! If I had a whole box of peanut butter, I wouldn’t get hungry this summer!”
 
Don White and Jerry Althof are 2023 volunteers of the year of the Winnebago Community Market at the NIFB distribution center.

White decided to volunteer first at mobile pantries and pop-up distributions and then at the Rockford NIFB itself. In less than two years, he says with pride, he’s logged in 1,200 hours of volunteer service.

Althof volunteers four days a week, supporting DoorDash and the behind-the-scenes work for the Winnebago Community Market.

He and White are among close to 1,000 volunteers of Northern Illinois Food Bank, which serves people in 13 counties across northern Illinois.
The vision of Northern Illinois Food Bank is “for everyone in Northern Illinois to have the food they need to thrive,” said Chris White, Chief Operating Officer. He spoke about Sister Rosemarie Burian, SSJ-TOSF, a Wheaton Franciscan sister who started the food bank (first called Bethlehem Center) in DuPage County. White had met her and said she shared with him some of the early challenges of that work begun in Carol Stream, including convincing residents that a food bank was needed. Her cat was the center’s first pest control, he recalled from those conversations, noting wryly that for a food bank, pest control is serious business.
 
The May 18 Founder’s Day celebration was held on what would have been Sister Rosemarie’s 87th birthday; she died at age 83 on Sept. 22, 2019. Sister Rosemary’s efforts later merged with the newly-begun Hunger Connection in Rockford and grew to become one of the top 15 largest food banks in the United States with four distribution centers — Rockford, Geneva, Lake Forest and Joliet. It provides, says a handout, 250,000 meals a day in 13 counties.
 
The speakers at the anniversary event included a partner of the food bank, Linda James, director of Christian Union Food Pantry in Rockford.
 
The work of the pantry is a joy, said James. Her pantry is 30 years old and, with help from Northern Illinois Food Bank and two other programs, Christian Union and its “12 faithful volunteers” serves 150-200 families each week, she said. 
 
“We are blessed to be able to do what we do,” she said, concluding with a statement from Jesus to St. Peter that inspires their pantry: “Feed my sheep.”
 
Christian Union is one of around 900 partners — pantries, churches, soup kitchens, shelters and youth and senior feeding programs — that are served by Northern Illinois Food Bank, including partner parishes in the counties that comprise the Diocese of Rockford. 
 
The Rockford distribution center includes the Winnebago Community Market where neighbors/patrons can shop twice a week. Last year, NIFB provided 8.8 million meals in Winnebago County. The need, said speakers, has risen dramatically from pre-pandemic numbers.
 
White made sure to mention a current $40,000 gift match in honor of the food bank’s 40th anniversary, and noted that new volunteers are always welcome to help evaluate, repack and distribute food.
 
Food distribution at the Winnebago Community Market takes place on Thursdays and Fridays from 1-7 p.m. People were beginning to line up even before the 10 a.m. anniversary gathering began.
 
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