This Week in The Times: H. Dennis Smith

Vitals: H. Dennis Smith has served as president and CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) since August 1998. He will be retiring March 31. Smith was recently awarded the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award by Feeding Illinois, and NIFB was named 2010 Food Bank of the Year by Feeding America. Smith is past president of Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Food Bank Association, and chairman of Feeding America’s National Hunger Action Committee and a member of the Illinois Commission on Poverty. He attended the University of South Carolina, where he majored in journalism, and then switched to the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising in Philadelphia, where he graduated in 1964. Dennis and his wife Joy are originally from South Carolina and live in Geneva, Ill.

1. If you could speak with any elected official–local, state or national–one-on-one, who would it be and what would you say? Over the past several years, I have spoken to elected officials at every level of government and conveyed to each that we need to step up both the investment in existing food support programs at all levels of government and that they need to make a personal commitment to champion these programs in their local community. Helping the hungry begins at home, and regardless of whether the elected official casts a vote in Rockford, Springfield or Washington, they need to remember their neighbors’ plight when they debate or make a legislative decision that will impact food assistance efforts.

2. What’s the one thing people should know about the Northern Illinois Food Bank? The Food Bank is committed to helping people in need of food assistance get the food they need either through a food pantry partner or a meal from a feeding site. In order to ensure this happens, NIFB continues to make significant investments in its transportation and food sourcing efforts so food can be acquired from manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and other donor points and then distribute this food to our agency partners.

3. What has changed the most about the Northern Illinois Food Bank during your time there? Northern Illinois Food Bank has grown from a small organization providing 6 million pounds of food a year to one that now provides over 36 million and now operates from three locations. Part of the challenge in this growth has been to maintain a true grassroots commitment to help the hungry while functioning as a well-organized business entity.

4. What can everyday people do to get involved in addressing hunger in northern Illinois? The hungry people we serve are everyday people…they just need food. I invite other everyday people to get involved as volunteers or donors of food or funds. My premise is to have neighbors help neighbors.

5. What aspects of your job are you going to miss the most after you retire? I will miss seeing the smiling faces of the youngsters we provide meals to in our different youth programs. I was at an afterschool site in Rockford last month, and we had about 150 kids eating supper. It struck me that of all the accomplishments of NIFB during my tenure that this scene of happy, smiling children would be a lasting memory. We started our youth program 11 years ago, and provided 2,000 meals to kids…last year we provided 1,161,781 meals.

This week in The Times” is a weekly survey of people chosen by The Rock River Times. This column does not accept unsolicited submissions.

From the March 23-29 issue

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