We’re incredibly saddened to share the news that this week, Northern Illinois Food Bank suffered the loss of its founder, Sister Rosemarie Burian.
Sister Rosemarie had a vision during a morning meditation in May 1982 that she would have a food bank – rooted in the belief that every person deserved access to the food they need to thrive.
With little background, but endless determination and drive, she founded the Food Bank that has been growing and solving hunger across Northern Illinois ever since.
Sister Rosemarie faced much controversy as she set out on her mission, as there was a great lack of awareness that people in DuPage County needed this kind of support. But steadfast in her commitment to helping others, Sister Rosemarie set out to open a center in DuPage County to demonstrate that even in an affluent area like Wheaton, poverty can be right next door.
In August 1982, Sister gathered a community of supporters (which later became the first Board of Directors) at a weekly meeting about the new Bethlehem Center. This Center resided in an office space inside a board member’s accounting firm in Glen Ellyn until the first warehouse at 170 Easy Street in Carol Stream opened in March 1983.
During a dinner with close friends, Sister Rosemarie received the Center’s first donation – $100 – which they’d raised through a garage sale. When soliciting additional donations and asked if she’d raised money yet, Sister proudly shared, “Oh yes, I have $100 right here.”
The Food Bank’s first employee, Mary Hayes, joined the mission in 1983. Together in the first year, the two women distributed 64,000 pounds of food to 80 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in 10 counties on behalf of the Center through a food rescue and redistribution model – one that continues to this day.
Today, Northern Illinois Food Bank is one of the top food banks in the Feeding America network, distributing more than 69 million meals in the past year through a network of more than 900 food pantries and feeding programs and sites, serving more than half a million people annually.
Sister Rosemarie visited the West Suburban Center in Geneva when the Food Bank celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2017. When asked to reflect on the Food Bank’s growth since its founding, Sister was a bit uncomfortable being called “successful” and called herself “gifted,” instead.
“I was not a business woman, but there I was meeting with business people. I have a passion for helping people understand what they are doing here [on earth],” she shared. “You’ve got the house. You’ve got the car. But what are you doing with your lifetime? How are you going to make it count?”
We are grateful for Sister Rosemarie’s passion, and all that her hard work left for us. Her legacy of kindness, generosity, and sense of a grander vision will always remain our guiding light in the work we carry out every day to solve hunger across Northern Illinois.