Volunteer, Dan, Giving Back to the Community

A long-time resident of Highland Park, Dan has been volunteering at the Highwood Mobile Market for about a year. Reflecting on the impact volunteering at the pantry has had on him, Dan says the experience “puts many things in perspective.”  

The father of two high school students, Dan’s volunteering has become a family affair. “I enjoy it, and I also bring my kids so they can give back directly to the community, to the local community,” says Dan. Growing up, Dan recalls that doing something for others, for your community, was mostly about giving money.  

He’s quick to note that financial support is essential but also meaningful for him and an important example to set for his kids is to impact others directly. “To be able to give back is to make a difference, and there are plenty of ways to do that, and this is just one of them.”  

Dan shares that he likes to put the neighbors at ease and sometimes greets them with a joke. He wants people to know no one is judging them, adding, “If they need help, they can have help.” To the delight of the kids visiting the market, Dan brings a bright red wagon to help neighbors easily transport groceries to their cars. The kids love pulling the wagon, as evidenced by the big smile that came across one boy’s face when he saw Dan. 

“Seeing an organization that helps 300 families every week is pretty cool,” Dan says with a smile and a sense of awe. “When kids want to complain about something, I remind them about how rough things can get for people. That’s where the difference is made.”  

For more information, Market dates, and to volunteer at a Highwood Mobile Market, click here

About Highwood Mobile Market:  Twice a month, Northern Illinois Food Bank distributes nutritious food to neighbors in the community facing hunger. Operating its Mobile Market out of the Fort Sheridan Metra Station parking lot, there is always a long line of individuals and families waiting to get milk, chicken, tortillas, potatoes, and other staples. 

Senior Neighbor, Carol, Encourages Program Use

We met Carol at a Senior Mobile in Rockford, IL. Carol is a resident of Greencastle of Mulford residential community. 

Carol, a resident at Greencastle of Mulford senior living facility, worked for social service organizations and is now retired. In her working life, Carol was committed to social service, which helped many people but didn’t pay a lot, leaving her with fewer savings for retirement.  

Carol appreciates the senior mobile Food Bank because it reaffirms her and her values. “Sometimes programs make you feel like you haven’t made enough money for yourself. This program doesn’t make me feel that way.”  

Carol also appreciates the convenience of the on-site food distribution. “For a while, I had a health issue, which made it very difficult to get to the store. Now I don’t have to leave the building, especially on a day like today when it’s so hot. Or in the winter, when it’s so cold.” 

Mostly, Carol takes food that she can use. If she has extra, she shares it with her daughter who is single and works by commission (so sometimes money is very tight). It makes Carol feel good to help her daughter when she doesn’t have a lot of her own cash to share. 

Carol encourages other residents to use the senior mobile program, “I’ll meet you at the door and then we can go through the mobile Food Bank together.” Carol was happy to see a new neighbor at the food distribution in her building. 

Based on her own work experience, Carol really appreciates the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s work and organization that goes into making the senior mobiles possible. “I understand what goes into getting this all together and I’m quite impressed.” 

Why Jennifer Lamplough, Chief Impact Officer, Became a Food Banker

I became a food banker because I had a student named Terrence.

I was teaching culinary arts at a local college and Terrence was in the first class I ever taught.

Terrence was a terrible cook. Worse than terrible. Couldn’t follow a recipe. Didn’t know the
difference between broccoli and celery. Didn’t care about the fundamentals of hospitality, at all.
Day after frustrating day, I wondered why on earth Terrence was enrolled in a culinary
arts program.

One day I snapped at him when he presented me with what was supposed to be silky smooth
cream of asparagus soup and what I got was tepid vegetable broth with three charred pieces of
asparagus in it. “Terrence!” I barked, pushing his bowl of whatever-that-was away from me,
“Why are you in this program? You clearly can’t do this and don’t even try that hard!”

He hung his head in shame and told me it was because he knew he would eat.

Gut punch.

Terrence didn’t have enough food to eat growing up, and still didn’t as a young adult. He was on
scholarship and knew if he enrolled in culinary, he would eat each day.

He knew he would eat.

Those words haunt me to this day and cause shame to boil inside me at the way I treated him.
I made assumptions and judgements about him and was endlessly frustrated with him and his
performance in class because I thought he just didn’t care.

I looked around my class and saw a lot of Terrences. I vowed that day to teach them all to cook if
it killed me. I wish I could say Terrence turned a corner, became a great cook and graduated with
honors. Sadly, like many college students out on their own, he couldn’t afford to stay in school,
even with scholarships to cover tuition.

I didn’t officially become a food banker until 11 years later when I joined the team at
Northern Illinois Food Bank
. I didn’t even know what a food bank was back then. Lucky for
me, right?

In my heart, though, I became a food banker in that moment and I vowed to help each student
learn to earn a better living if they could. Learn how to cook a good meal for their families. Learn
that I was there for them and that I would pretend to be busy so they could wrap up the leftovers
from class that they were supposed to throw away for “liability reasons.” Learn that they mattered and that there is no shame in admitting needing help. Learn that some people do care, and
won’t judge you because you can’t make ends meet.

Right now, the need for food is astronomically high. We are serving more people each month now
than we were at the height of the pandemic. You can read endless articles and research about
how high that need is and how hard it is to get enough food to feed everyone. It’s real, and
it’s tragic.

Food. A fundamental human right. Not a luxury. Imagine fighting every day to figure out how you
are going to put food on the table. Imagine waiting in line for hours to get a couple of bags of
groceries just to be able to pack your kid’s lunch. Imagine getting tears in your eyes because you
were able to get fresh grapes at the food pantry. Imagine having to decide to waste your
scholarship on a program you don’t even like just so you know you’d eat. Imagine. Can you even?
I can because I’ve seen it.

You don’t have to work at a food bank to become a food banker. It’s really easy, actually. Donate
money. Donate food. Donate time. Don’t make assumptions about people. Believe them when
they say they need help and don’t make them prove it.

Want to become a food banker today? Click the link below to donate to Northern Illinois Food
Bank and help us ensure every neighbor of ours…yours…has the food they need to thrive.


Julie Yurko’s November Letter

Our neighbors need nourishing food every single day. We’re serving the community every single day. Which might make you ask — why is providing food during the holidays so important?

Maybe it’s because our mission is about more than food. It’s also about community and connections. 

During the holiday season, we offer our Holiday Meal Box Program. Holiday Meal Boxes start with the community. Our donors help to fund them, and our volunteers help put them together! This program started in 1999 with 3,250 Holiday Meal Boxes given to neighbors in need, and it’s been going strong ever since, growing to meet the need. This year our goal is to provide 50,600 Holiday Meal Boxes. 

These food packages are one of the ways we help neighbors feel connected to their community and celebrate holidays, which can be a precious time with family. 

Think about your own family. It’s such a special time of year, across so many faith and cultural traditions. My children are grown now, so they aren’t always around. I love to get them home for the holidays whenever I can! 

But that’s not the only reason holiday giving is important. The need for food is also very high at this time of year. Let’s keep working together to meet that need and show our commitment to serving our community. Please make a holiday gift today if you can!


Julie Yurko President & CEO

Make a gift today!

For every $1 donated, Northern Illinois Food Bank is able to provide $8 worth of groceries to help a neighbor thrive. Every donation makes a real difference in the lives of our neighbors.

The Difference You Make

A Team Member’s Perspective

450,000 neighbors served monthly – thanks to leaders like Yvette, every experience is extraordinary!

Would you know how to explain the difference between a food bank and a food pantry?

We know this can sound confusing, but it’s really quite easy to explain. Northern Illinois Food Bank supplies groceries to a network of 900 outlets across our 13-county service area, including soup kitchens, after-school programs, Backpack distributions, and more. But the majority of our neighbors access groceries through our network of about 400 agencies and food pantries. We recently spoke with one of our team members, Yvette Sellers, who shared her insight.

“Northern Illinois Food Bank is a lot like an actual bank,” she says. “Except instead of money, we obtain, process, and distribute the food that our network of food pantries provides for the neighbors who use their services.” Yvette continues, “Most food pantries serve their immediate neighborhoods. They are right in their own community, meeting the needs of their neighbors. The Food Bank helps keep the shelves stocked in those food pantries so no one has to go hungry.” We asked Yvette to tell us more about her work as our Agency Relations Area Leader for our Northwest counties. “I like to be able to help my community, and my community is not just where I live. It’s all five counties that I serve within my region.”

What does a typical workday look like for her?

Yvette laughs, “No two days are the same. I might be at a Mobile Market in the morning, and then doing administrative work in the afternoon, or visiting a partner agency. “It’s really inspiring and exciting to see the work they’re doing, and the enthusiasm of the agencies and the pantry directors and their volunteers. They are constantly innovating and sharing with other agencies about what they’re doing in their communities – ideas ranging from food safety to distribution schedules that work best for those we’re serving.” We asked Yvette if there was anything she’d like to say to our donors and volunteers. “It’s two simple words: Thank you! We see the difference you make every day for children, families, seniors and other neighbors, and we’re very grateful to you!”

Rx Mobile Market—Saving Lives

“You are saving our lives by providing healthy food.”

Sirenio picks up healthy food at the
Rx Mobile Market in Waukegan, a
partnership with Erie Family Health.

Sirenio’s life changed when he received his diagnosis. Chances are you know and love someone whose life has also been altered by diabetes. It’s a disease that affects every part of a patient’s life and without management, can be fatal. But there’s hope for patients in Northern Illinois, thanks to innovative partnerships and generous donors.

The risk of diabetes among those who are food insecure is about two times higher than those who are not food insecure. Feeding America estimates that 33% of the households it serves include someone diagnosed with diabetes. Building a healthy eating pattern is critical to maintain good health, wellbeing, and to prevent, delay, or manage diabetes.

Northern Illinois Food Bank has developed partnerships with area healthcare providers. One of the innovative programs to come out of these partnerships is the Rx Mobile Market program—a way for those who suffer from diabetes and other diet-related illnesses to obtain free, health-smart food like lean meat and fresh produce. Patients are referred to this program by their healthcare provider. It’s a reliable resource for neighbors like Sirenio, who is 51 and disabled due to complications from diabetes. “Due to my health, I cannot work, and healthy food is expensive. Before, I used to eat whatever I could get, and it made my health issues worse.”

Now, a healthier diet is Sirenio’s prescription for regaining his independence. It’s taken time and effort, but his health is getting better. Since improving his diet through the Rx Mobile Market program, Sirenio has seen real benefits. His eyesight has improved, the circulation problem that plagued his feet has lessened, and he’s happier.

Sirenio is grateful for the access to healthy food. “It helps me and a lot of people who don’t have the means to get food.” Speaking for others who face health and hunger challenges in our community, he says, “You are saving our lives by providing healthy food.”

Ellen’s Story

Overcoming Food Insecurity with the Help of a Food Bank

“I was a single mom. I was working full-time but still not making enough. It was either food or bills.”

Ellen Croce is a volunteer and former client of the HCS Pantry in Hinsdale, Illinois. Her story is one of resilience and hope in the face of food insecurity. When Ellen first started using the food pantry, she was a single mother struggling to make ends meet. She had two young daughters, one of whom had a heart transplant at the age of two. Despite working full-time, Ellen found it difficult to provide enough food for her family.

Ellen’s situation is not uncommon. Many families in the United States struggle with food insecurity, defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In fact, the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which partners with HCS Pantry, estimates that over 800,000 people in its service area face food insecurity.

Finding Community at the Pantry

Ellen’s experience with the food pantry was life-changing. Despite feeling humiliated and depressed at first, she found that the staff and volunteers treated her with respect and kindness. “They treat you like you’re human,” Ellen says. “They treat you like, ‘Thank you so much for coming in today.’ That is a huge thing for somebody’s confidence for raising children. For me to know that I could take care of my children, and there are people that are not judging you. That’s huge.”

Neighbor, Volunteer, and Partner

Ellen’s experience with the food bank not only gave her the confidence to provide for her family but also inspired her to give back to her community. As she explains, “As well as being helped, I needed to help.” Ellen became a volunteer at the HCS Pantry and helped open a new food pantry in Willowbrook. She credits the food bank with giving her the self-confidence to move forward and help others. “Donors and volunteers are so much more important than they think they are,” she says. “Please keep doing it. Please share it with your family and your friends. Invite them to come and help. Invite them to be a part of being this place that helps our neighbors.”

Neighbors. Empowered.

Ellen’s story is a testament to the power of food banks and the importance of supporting them. Donors and volunteers play a crucial role in providing food and resources to families like Ellen’s. As Ellen says, “Donors and volunteers are so much more important than they think they are. They are amazing people who give their time, their money sometimes, the food. Please keep doing it. Please share it with your family and your friends. Invite them to come and help. Invite them to be a part of being this place that helps our neighbors.”

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, let’s remember the impact that food banks can have on people’s lives. Let’s continue to support and volunteer at our local food banks and work towards a future where no one has to go hungry.

Volunteer if you can. And keep on donating. It means the world to people.

Healthy Foods – And A Taste of Home

What are you hungry for? Rice cakes and seaweed? Masala marinade? In our diverse communities, our neighbors derive nourishment and cultural connections from a wide variety of foods. Which means, at Northern Illinois Food Bank, we need to make sure the shelves are stocked with foods that are culturally appropriate for all of the neighbors we serve.

So, we do polling. We rely on research and census data. And we invest in communication, education and outreach—encouraging our food pantries to learn more about the cultures they are serving, the holidays they are celebrating, and the foods people are asking for.

Thank goodness for our wonderful partners! One food donor is now helping keep us stocked with rice cakes, seaweed, and fish sauce. Another is supplying chili pods, tofu, and masa flour. And a local produce vendor is supplying delicacies like mangoes, jalapenos, and Mexican squash. Local farmers are even stepping up and growing some amazing new crops!

We don’t all eat the same foods. But we all share a commitment to feeding our neighbors and ending hunger in our communities. The more we stock the shelves with healthy, appropriate, and culturally affirming foods, the more we help make sure no one goes hungry. Thanks for all you do to support our work!

5 Ways You Can Help Save Our Planet

The wonderful modern technology and resources that we know and love has also led to harmful impacts on our planet. Diminishing resources, deforestation, air pollution, water crises and global warming are sadly the reality of our world today. Pollution and environmental destruction have been growing for as long as the human race has been around, but it’s only been in recent years that we’ve really started to take a closer look at our global impact. 

A list like this can seem daunting, so how can you make a difference in the world? Reducing your carbon footprint can be as easy as making some small changes that add up to big results. Check out these easy ways you can lessen your environmental impact and help save the earth.

1. Use Less Water

When it comes to using water, the little things make a big difference. Pay attention to how and when you’re using water and find new ways to reduce and reuse. Simple steps like turning the water off when brushing your teeth, taking less shower time and using a front-loading washer can go a long way. And those plastic water bottles? Say good riddance! Take advantage of your own personal reusable water bottle for water and plastic conservation.

2. Walk Instead of Drive

According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. If all of us made one small step to take less trips, we would definitely be looking at a healthier planet. If you can, try biking or walking when on your way to work, class or just out and about. Not only do you get some exercise, but you’ll help make the earth a healthier place to live. 

3. Use Less Electricity

The burning of substances like coal and natural gas for electrical energy is the most common source of air pollution. You can help change this by reducing dependence on electricity. Take steps like shutting off equipment when not in use, closing air conditioning vents in unused rooms, washing clothes in cold water and turning the lights off whenever you leave a room. Reducing our reliance on electricity also reduces our reliance on unhealthy air pollutants. 

4. Buy Local 

Buying local goods helps combat air pollution in two ways: you don’t have to travel as far to buy items, and the goods don’t have to travel as far to get to you. Be aware of where to buy products, which helps impact our environmental health. Shop at local farmer’s markets, and buy online from nearby areas, checking to see where products were made. Not only do you help our planet, but you also support the local community!

5. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Making a conscious effort to produce less trash helps lessen the production of unsustainable products that will end up in landfills. Go green by using reusable grocery bags, glass containers instead of plastic, reusable dinnerware, rechargeable batteries and using online and computer resources rather than printing out paper. Most importantly, use a recyclable container at home to recycle paper, plastic, cardboard and glass.

When it comes to saving our planet, small steps make a big impact. Every person can make an effort toward reducing their carbon footprint and living a more altruistic lifestyle for the world. Consider what kind of earth you want to leave behind for generations to come. Make steps today and be a force for change in a healthier, happier, world. 

5 Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering as a Family

Are you looking for a way to bring your family together? Hoping to find a hobby that can be shared by both the little ones and adults? Volunteering as a family may be just the thing you need. You may know the “feel-good” emotions that come with helping others, but there are even more unexpected ways volunteering will positively affect the whole family: 

  • You’ll feel like you have more time 

People often feel they are too busy to volunteer. Yet, the Harvard Business Review found that giving your time to community causes actually makes you feel like you have more of it. Volunteering makes us feel capable and efficient, inspiring us to make the most of each day.

  • Volunteering has a life-long effect on kids and teenagers 

Volunteering during adolescence has been linked to some major positive effects such as improved grades, reduced drug usage, and  increased self-esteem. These effects aren’t just short-term but have been proved to affect a teen’s well-being in the years to come.   

  • You can live longer if you volunteer regularly  

For adults, volunteering can provide significant physical health benefits. Washington University found that for adults 55 and older who volunteered had better stamina, memory, and maintained overall health longer than others their age. Volunteers are also more likely to look after their own health and are more focused on adding physical activity into their lives.   

  • More time spent with family 

Families who volunteer together have the unique experience of working toward a shared goal. You may even learn that your child has a talent or interest you didn’t know about before. Everyone brings something unique to the table and can connect with each other and the community in a new way. And, there are tasks for every age and ability so all your children, whether eight or 18, can feel proud of their work. 

  • You’ll be happier 

The University of Texas found in a 2003 study that becoming involved in helping your community lowers rates of depression and anxiety. By volunteering, the entire family can benefit from bettering their mental wellness and alleviating stress.