On a warm July afternoon, a group of (mostly) Rockfordians gathered together in a loose circle, centered around overflowing barrels of food, talking about hunger while sweating through their suits.
They were not about to chow down under the summer sun. This was a picnic with purpose.
July 24, members of Alden Management Services and the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) were able to survive the heat to begin a partnership to aid the hungry with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.
The groups joined together to form a perpetual food drive at Alden Alma Nelson Manor, 550 S. Mulford Road, and Alden Park Strathmoor, 5668 Strathmoor Drive, both in Rockford. Community members were encouraged to bring in non-perishable items, and drop them off at food barrels in the reception areas.
Canned beans, soups and meats are all encouraged, as well as flour, powdered creamer and cooking oil. Demand is not only for foodstuffs, but also personal items such as soap, toothpaste and paper towels. Glass containers are prohibited. By the time of the ribbon cutting, donations had already begun.
Its great seeing people already coming out and sharing their bounty with others, said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I).
Amber Wood, community and public relations manager of the NIFB, added, We will be available seven days a week, from 8 to 8 (at these two sites).
The food banks Rockford branch is open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wood explained that every quarter will be themed, with the goal of each being 5,000 pounds of food.
A third of those served by the NIFB are children, one reason the program is called Picnic with a Purpose.
There are thousands of children that are in need of our help, Wood said. During the summer, children dont have access to the reduced-cost meal plans at public schools, which many families rely on, she said.
From July through September, the theme is Picnic with a Purpose. The Rockford Park District is partnering with the group to distribute fliers to families who take part in summer camp programs, said Victoria Wolpoff. The idea is that if youre having lunch already, why not bring some food for the drive? Wolpoff said.
Wolpoff said the partnership is looking for more companies to join in the drive, to reach further into the Rockford community. The fall partner is yet to be decided.
We all decided that this would be a great idea, said Greg Nienaber, regional director of Alden Management Services. The amount of need in the area exceeds what even this new partnership will be able to provide, but not for lack of effort, he said.
Right now, theres about 36,000 people in Winnebago County that need help, he added, in a figure that reflects the population living in poverty, to whom the NIFB delivered 1.6 million pounds of food.
Hunger is a symptom of the poverty problems we have in our community, Morrissey said.
Hunger is deeply embedded in poverty, which also ties into issues of family and education, he added. Morrissey said he admired the work of the NIFB, the professional staff across the state to the people at the grassroots, helping out the community.
Its not very helpful to talk to someone whos hungry about systemic, long-term cause and effect, Morrissey said. We need to be able to feed the hungry today while working on long-term causes.
Alden Alma Nelson Manor can be contacted at (815) 484-1002. For Alden Strathmoor, call (815) 229-5200. To reach the Northern Illinois Food Bank and get involved, call (815) 961-7283.
from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue