Northern Illinois Food Bank needs volunteers
• About a month behind in processing food donations, Food Bank creates Wednesday and Saturday volunteer shifts
By Joe McGehee
Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) has helped feed the hungry in northern Illinois since 2005, but now it appears they need assistance from the citizens of Winnebago County. As donations continue to pour into the facility at 320 S. Avon St., volunteers are needed to help get the much-needed food out to the hungry across the area.
“The food we have on hand here would make a huge difference in Winnebago County,” said Chris White, branch manager for the NIFB in Rockford. “But, getting this food ready to ship to food pantries is a very labor-intensive process, and we could use some additional helping hands.”
The NIFB acquires, handles and distributes food to 520 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other 501(c)(3) hunger reduction sites in 13 counties across northern Illinois. They are advocates on behalf of the hungry in local communities and ensure all agency partners meet proper food handling practices.
“We have around 200,000 pounds of canned goods in our facility now waiting to be sorted, labeled, packed and ultimately shipped to pantries and soup kitchens in the area to serve the hungry,” said White. “We are about a month behind in getting food out the door and ultimately onto the tables of those who need it.”
With 100,000 to 120,000 pounds of donations arriving each month, additional volunteers are needed to get the food ready to be of use to hungry families in the area.
White estimates 20 volunteers each currently donate some three hours per week. However, the need for more volunteers is clearly illustrated by the amount of “totes,” or large cardboard boxes filled with food items, lining the facility’s floor.
When a tote arrives at the facility, it must first be sorted to ensure pantries and soup kitchens are not receiving severely damaged food items. Then, each item must be labeled by its contents before being packed and shipped.
“If we had the labor here, we could get this product out and serve those in need in a much quicker manner,” White said.
With the unemployment rate for Rockford in August hovering at 15.2 percent, it is easy to see an increase in families in need of food assistance. Also, according to statistics gathered by the 2000 Census, 14 percent of the population and 10.5 percent of families were living under the poverty line. Of those living below the poverty line, 19.6 percent were younger than 18 and 8 percent were 65 or older.
According to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in 11 people in Illinois is food insecure, or does not have regular access to enough safe, nutritious food to support an active and healthy life. Also, many households deemed food insecure face challenges such as reducing the quality and variety of meals, and may have irregular food intake.
NIFB in Rockford has shifts open to volunteers 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday. To meet their needs for additional volunteers, NIFB is providing additional shifts on the first and third Wednesday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m., the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon, and the fourth Saturday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m.
NIFB depends heavily on the 60,000-plus hours of volunteer help each year to distribute more than 27 million pounds of food annually. To become a volunteer, contact the NIFB volunteer coordinator at (630) 443-6910, ext. 129, for further details, registration, and a list of projects in need of volunteer support. Also, more information is available at www.northernilfoodbank.org.
From the October 7-13, 2009 issue