The past few years have been quite a ride. For our world, our nation, and our 815.
We have experienced great loss and share the uncertainty of a future unknown.
Yet, this roller coaster ride has been an awakening, shining a light on disparity, bigotry, poverty and food insecurity.
The Rockford community has been extremely supportive of those who don’t have enough to eat. The outpouring of generosity and empathy for those going hungry in our local 815 community took the pantries of the Greater Rockford Pantry Coalition aback, and it’s simply not possible to try to express the gratitude of our clients in words.
Thank you seems insufficient. The success of the Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon 815 GoFundMe campaign was humbling and awe inspiring. Your donations not only kept us open and able to stock our shelves, but at its peak, helped to feed over 40,000 men, women and children a month in our community alone.
Unlike a food bank that services multiple counties and charges food pantries a “unit fee” on many donated commodities, your local pantries allocate 94 percent of every hard-earned dollar you donate to client services, and are staffed primarily by dedicated volunteers.
Like you, we understand that in order to alleviate food insecurity we must do more than apply a “Food Band-Aid.“ We must advocate, educate, and provide resources to lift up those that come to us for assistance.
The root causes that lead people to go to pantries to get enough to meet their nutrition needs have not gone away. We must make the health, welfare and education of not only the children, but the parents, a top priority.
As a society, we must do all we can to break the cycle.
Your local pantries provide resource tables staffed by Prairie State Legal, Medicare and Medicaid assistance representatives, SNAP enrollment, Illinois Extension nutrition education and budgeting classes, Rock Valley College enrollment and education opportunities, and job resources from local staffing businesses.
When clients enter our pantries they are treated with respect, given choices, and leave with not just four days of well-balanced meals for their families, but a list of additional resources, their dignity, and a sense of hope for the future.
When the Hunger Luncheon Committee met last fall in preparation for the 2021 Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon, I was asked to survey the coalition pantries in order to determine if there was an immediate need for funding.
It came as no surprise to find that the combination of careful budgeting and spending practices and the decline in pantry client numbers allowed us to stretch your donation dollars much further than planned. In addition, the National Association of Letter Carriers, both local and national, gifted the coalition with a total of $1,000 each in lieu of the Stamp Out Hunger food drive that was cancelled again for COVID safety reasons.
The combined gifts left the majority of the pantries now in a position to continue your work into the fall months. Carefully weighing all aspects, and concerned about community safety, the Hunger Luncheon Committee made the decision to forgo a venue centered event again this year.
The suggestion of the coalition to hold an outdoor donor appreciation picnic was also abandoned with the onset of the Delta virus. There was now a dilemma. How does the coalition continue to reach out and inform our community, and prepare for the upsurge that will inevitably follow in the months ahead?
The root causes have not been solved; the need will come back.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, in conjunction with the coalition, shares his views on the root causes of food insecurity in our community during a video interview that has been posted at greaterrockfordpantrycoalition.com.
The coalition website is a place where the community and clients alike can receive information, learn about the pantries, and offer support for the issues important to you.
Without addressing the root causes and offering critical resources and education to the working poor and those without access, our pantry numbers will again rise to pre-COVID levels.
We must be prepared for a future that realistically looks no different from the past. We hope we can rely on your continued support as we work to ensure that everyone in our area has access to health, nutritious food.
How to help
Go to greaterrockfordpantrycoalition.com, click on “DONATE.” We appreciate your support.
Leslie Varisco is president of the Greater Rockford Pantry Coalition.
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Eliminating food insecurity requires more than a ‘Food Band-Aid’