The work we do here at the Food Bank is made possible through the collaborative efforts of countless people: staff, volunteers, food pantries, donors, community partners, and more. Today, we’re bringing you an insider account from someone who joined us for the summer to contribute their own efforts to solving hunger in Northern Illinois. Introducing Sarah, our Tyson Communications and Advocacy intern!
Reflecting on my time as the Communications and Advocacy Intern at Northern Illinois Food Bank this summer requires acknowledging the biggest elephant in the room. The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on my eight weeks at Northern Illinois Food Bank. Unfortunately, hunger is incredibly persistent and the pandemic heightened the need for food assistance in our service area. The Food Bank has worked ceaselessly since March to address these incredibly high levels of food insecurity and hunger, and it has been a privilege to join them in their goal to solve hunger in Northern Illinois.
One of my primary projects was to develop an internal tracking measure to gauge our relationships with our elected officials. Our Advocacy and Awareness Specialist works diligently to develop relationships with officials in our service area so they know the importance of the food assistance we are able to provide with their aid. The tracking methods that I devised will enable us to be more effective with our advocacy strategies in the future.
While this project involved quite a bit of time on Excel, I learned an incredible amount about food policy in the United States during the process. It also allowed me the opportunity to develop logistical skills to support my interest in advocacy.
Building out Northern Illinois Food Bank’s advocacy efforts also includes our volunteers, donors, and neighbors. I worked closely with another colleague this summer to develop an advocacy website and other resources that will enable us to better engage interested parties in our advocacy. I am very excited about this new resource that will enable the Food Bank and interested community members to more effectively advocate on behalf of our neighbors in need.
My passion project this summer has been helping our neighbors access voter registration resources. I worked with the League of Women Voters and drafted social media content so that our neighbors have the resources they need to vote. (As an aside, Illinois offers online voter registration – so if you haven’t registered, please do so here.)
On the communications side, I worked to gather neighbor stories so that the Food Bank can share the impact of our work with our community. Story collection was difficult. Hearing directly from neighbors whose lives had been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating. I am so grateful that so many neighbors were willing to share their experiences with me.
Honoring their courage to share requires telling their story well. While my professors at school may love my analytical writing style, I struggled to convey the emotion that these courageous neighbors had shared with me in my write-ups. I am so fortunate that the Food Bank’s Marketing and Communications Specialist took the time to provide me with constructive feedback. Now, I feel more confident in my ability to share our neighbors’ story without losing the earnestness with which they conveyed them to me. I hope to continue developing this skill more in the future, but I am grateful that Northern Illinois Food Bank provided me with the opportunity to lay a strong developmental foundation.
I am so thankful to Tyson Foods for sponsoring this opportunity. I have grown personally and professionally as a result of this experience and I cannot wait to apply these skills to my future endeavors.
Further, I am grateful for Campus Compact Illinois for providing so many incredible professional development opportunities this summer. Alongside my peers, I learned more about how to engage in difficult conversations in a professional environment and developed my theoretical understanding of Cultural Humility.
Finally, my biggest thank you is to Northern Illinois Food Bank and especially to the Marketing and Communications Department. Thank you for providing me with so many opportunities to learn this summer. It has been so much fun working with you all to solve hunger in Northern Illinois!