Neighbor Melissa, “I don’t feel judged”

Every Friday afternoon, Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Highwood Mobile Market distributes nutritious food to neighbors in the community facing hunger. During a recent visit to the mobile market, we saw a long line of families, seniors, and individuals waiting in the cold to get milk, chicken, tortillas, potatoes, and much more.  

One of those neighbors was Melissa from Waukegan. Melissa, a single mom to a one-year-old, has been coming to the Highwood mobile market for the last several months. Like so many other families, Melissa said the increasing cost of food has made it difficult for her to get groceries and pay her monthly bills. “It’s been really hard, and I worry a lot. Being food insecure has affected my self-confidence and makes me feel bad,” said Melissa.  

She said finding a consistent place that provides nutritious food and essential goods has had a positive impact on her. “It’s been a relief to know I can come here and get food for my family, and I don’t feel judged.” 

Melissa said she is happy about the variety of offerings at the mobile market. ” “Today there is milk which will help me feed my baby right now, and that is good. One time I got the baby back ribs, and my family was like wow,” adding, “I always get the potatoes, and whenever I get cereal, my baby is happy.”  

Getting a little help during tough times has been a comfort that Melissa is grateful for. “Knowing I can come here to get food makes me feel happy because it helps a lot,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the volunteers and donors who support this mobile market.” 

Volunteer Nadine, I love people!

Meet Nadine, a spirited presence at Winnebago Community Market (WCM), whose dedication and enthusiasm infuse this community with joy and energy. “I love people; I love keeping busy and trying to stay young,” Nadine says with a smile. Introduced to the WCM by her granddaughter, Nadine has been volunteering for about 18 months. “My granddaughter was volunteering with her school and asked me if I would join her. I said absolutely! During her shifts, Nadine keeps the pantry’s bread and pastry sections stocked and organized and ensures the neighbors find what they want.

“Volunteering at the Winnebago Community Market excites me; I love it! I am so happy that my granddaughter got me involved in this. It’s me, I love people!” she exclaims. Describing this experience as “fulfilling to the max,” Nadine values her time at WCM, adding, “It’s impacted my life by seeing what others really, really need and how I can help them in whatever way I try.”

Nadine warmly talks about how many good, “neat people” neighbors and fellow volunteers she’s met. She encourages others to get involved in their communities and to find something they are passionate about supporting. To newcomer food pantry volunteers, she offers simple yet profound words: “This is going to be a fabulous experience. Keep a smile on your face, treat people the way you would wish to be treated, and love it. Just keep smiling.” Vibrant and compassionate, Nadine reminds us that many people carry heavy challenges every day that may impact their mental well-being. “A lot of people are depressed nowadays, so if you can offer a smile, people love it.” With a wry smile, she adds, “Or wear a fancy shirt,” gesturing to her bright yellow, heart-adorned Tweety Bird t-shirt.

Finally, when asked about donors who support the pantry, Nadine expresses gratitude: “Thank you for the hearts that you have. It fills my heart when I see those who have donated. It is so special, and it is precious.” Nadine’s story reminds us that we all can help build community and look out for our neighbors. Her energy and dedication to serving others inspire us all.

Neighbor Cliff, The Spirit of the Community

We met with Clifford at the Salvation Army food pantry in Kankakee, Illinois, to talk about the challenges his family has faced and the positive role the food and healthy eating services provided by the Northern Illinois Food Bank have played in their life. “With what I make, I could never afford to get the food we need at the grocery stores,” shared Clifford.  

Clifford was sidelined from his career as a plumber in good standing with his local union due to a physical disability incurred on the job. “We had to move cast iron tubs up to the second floor of homes [being renovated],” said Clifford, adding, “After that, my back was shot, and I had to get a three-level fusion.” A spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that links spinal vertebrae to stabilize the back.  

Since his injury and surgery about 20 years ago, Clifford—a married father of three—has relied on disability to support his family. His oldest son is studying to be a doctor, and his two other children are 19 and 16 years old and reside at home.  

While Clifford and his family do supplement the food they receive at food banks with trips to the grocery store, he said if community pantries weren’t available, it would affect us because we depend on all of them to help us out,” adding, “I can’t believe the prices on some food today.”  

Not only does everyone deserve the food they need to thrive, but opportunities to access essential resources should be convenient and welcoming. Clifford reflected on his food bank experiences, “They are good people here. They’re nice and treat you with respect, like a human being instead of somebody needy.”  

Of course, continuing to support food distributions and consistently providing healthy food for our neighbors depends on the community’s generosity of volunteer time and financial support.  

“I’m appreciative of what people donate, and I want to thank everyone who donates to this cause because it not only helps me and my family, but it helps so many others,” said Clifford, who often thinks about those who have even greater struggles. “There are people who are homeless and who need more support, even more than me. If I see that, I’d rather have them have it, and I’ll go without a little bit.”  

That spirit of community to care for one another helps create a safety net for our neighbors experiencing food insecurity. 

Celebrating 1,000 Online Orders with OrderAhead!

OrderAhead (OA) is an online ordering tool from Feeding America. Four agencies (St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry, Neighbor Food Pantries – Family in Faith Church Food Pantry, Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry, and H.E.A.L. Riverwalk Food Pantry) have started their distributions using the OA website. Their programs were developed with the support of the Northern Illinois Food Bank Innovation Team and Feeding America. With almost 60 distributions, the agencies have seen nearly 1400 orders with a 96% pickup rate. We are hoping to launch a second round of OrderAhead agencies in March.  Below are some stories from our agencies in St. John, Family in Faith Church, Aurora Interfaith, and H.E.A.L. Riverwalk.

Northern Illinois Food Bank Growth Dashboard

Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry

Aurora Interfaith Team picking, packing and prepping individual order labels for delivery

Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry started online ordering in September 2023. Aurora choose to transition an existing program called Pantry to Go. The program organizes the delivery of a supplemental food box to neighbors who are homebound and unable to come to the pantry for food distribution. Delivery is fulfilled request that fall within a 10-mile radius. Auora has been able to increased convenience and choice for neighbors by moving it online.  Marcy Robles, Volunteer Coordinator, describes why they chose OrderAhead:

“Being able to offer choices for our neighbors who receive delivery has been a big improvement. OrderAhead has enhanced our delivery program.”

St. John Lutheran Church Food Pantry  

Heather and St. John OrderAhead Team

St. John Food Pantry launched their OrderAhead program in September 2023. Director, Heather Hinthorn, describes the impact online ordering can have on neighbors to increase access:

 “A neighbor recently pulled me aside and gave me a big hug. She was proud to say she planned to never see me again! She was able to return to work after taking a leave of absence to care for his husband after he was in a serious accident at work. Before visiting our pantry for the first time using OrderAhead, a friend of hers had to walk her through asking for help. She had never been in a situation like this before.  With tears in her eyes, she shared with me how hard it was to walk into our pantry the first time, but that OrderAhead made the experience a positive one. She was so thankful to be able to choose her groceries online and pick them up quickly at our pantry. 

For some families, visiting a food pantry is a long-term solution to meet their needs and we are proud to serve them each week. For some, they may only visit once and we never see them again, but we are proud to share an abundance of healthy food options. We are so proud to offer any neighbor that needs us the opportunity to access fresh produce, meal kits, milk, eggs, meat, and pantry staples with kindness and care. OrderAhead helps us do this in a very special way and mimics the online ordering one would experience with any major retailer. It’s an incredible resource for our neighbors.” 

Family and Faith Church, of Neighborhood Food Pantries

Brian Ratliff overlooking OrderAhead orders.

Family and Faith Church began online ordering in September of 2023.  Like St. John, they also provide a pickup distribution experience every Wednesday evening. Food Pantry Manager, Brian Ratliff, describes the impact that online ordering has to provide convenience and fight the stigma some neighbors feel with the charitable food network:

 “Our goal is to provide food to neighbors in need with dignity. There also are people in need who would struggle with turning to a food pantry for help. OrderAhead is very private, and the guest is able to pick up their order without entering the pantry.”

OrderAhead is a great choice for people who are comfortable with computers and have internet access. It helps us too because it means 20 people fewer standing in line at the pantry.  Many of our guests work and don’t earn enough to provide enough food to meet their family’s needs. Now they can use OrderAhead and pick up on their way home.”

Holsten Human Capital Development’s H.E.AL. Riverwalk Food Pantry

Martha Barrios, Food Pantry Coordinator, and H.E.A.L OrderAhead Team

Holsten Human Capital Development’s H.E.A.L. Pantry introduced the “OrderAhead” online option in January 2024.  According to Elizabeth Protich, Program Manager, H.E.A.L designed OrderAhead:

“To assist individuals with busy schedules or those who find it challenging to stand in line for extended periods of time. This initiative aligns with HHCD’s commitment of ensuring access to nutritious food options, particularly aiming to support families in preparing wholesome meals and individuals with specific medical dietary requirements. By leveraging this service, users can conveniently select from a range of healthy food items online, thereby simplifying the process of obtaining essential nutrition without the need to physically wait in line. This forward-thinking approach not only enhances accessibility but also aligns with our overarching mission to foster a healthier community by making nutritious food more obtainable for everyone, especially those in critical need of special dietary consideration. 

Holsten Human Capital Development (HHCD) further enriches its H.E.A.L. Pantry “OrderAhead” initiative by offering comprehensive training and assistance through their Holistic Health Resource Program, aimed at individuals who may not be computer-savvy but are eager to utilize the “OrderAhead” online option. This thoughtful inclusion ensures that everyone, regardless of their technological proficiency, has the opportunity to benefit from this service. By providing personalized guidance, HHCD not only facilitates the transition to digital ordering for those unfamiliar with online systems but also prioritizes privacy, allowing individuals to select their healthy food options discreetly and at their convenience. This extension of support exemplifies HHCD’s dedication to inclusivity and privacy, ensuring that all community members have equal access to nutritious food while maintaining their dignity and independence.”  

According to a recent neighbor using OrderAhead:

“Thanks to OrderAhead, I can now get healthy food for my kids without waiting in long lines after work.  Once I learned how to order on my phone it was fast and easy. This program has been a huge help.”

The Future of Online Ordering

The Northern Illinois Food Bank plans to expand online ordering through OrderAhead to an additional 5-7 agencies this spring, providing more certainty and consistency around online ordering options for neighbors.  The Food Bank’s goal is to see 10 million meals distributed annual from online ordering from OrderAhead, it’s online ordering program My Pantry Express, and other non-OrderAhead agency online ordering programs.  With agencies like St. John, Family in Faith, Aurora, and H.E.A.L, we are well on our way to meeting that need.

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. 

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.


4 Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Consumer food waste is a worldwide challenge, but a few habits and changes at home can make a huge difference!

1. Compost your leftovers

Do you have a garden? If not, do you know someone who does? If the answer is yes, composting is a terrific way to use your kitchen scraps! Composting speeds up the decomposition process by providing an ideal environment for organisms such as bacteria, worms and fungi, to do their work. With your food scraps, these organisms will produce compost, a nutrient-rich substance often referred to as “black gold,” which can be sprinkled around your plants. It’s the key to a happy and healthy garden!

2. Use meat bones or vegetable scraps to make a broth 

If you have some leftover chicken, beef or pork bones, try making a bone broth! For many years, bone broth has been used in various cultures around the world as a medicinal food. It has many health benefits including its ability to strengthen the kidneys and support digestive health. It’s also a common base for many soups and sauces. All you need to do is drop your bones into a pot and cover it with water. Add a bit of salt to season the broth, along with a couple tablespoons of acid—apple cider vinegar or lemon juice will work—to break down the collagen. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover your pot and let it cook for at least 10-12 hours. Once it has reduced by about a third, you can strain and store your broth in the refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to use it. This works great with vegetable scraps too! 

3. Make your own fertilizer

Composting isn’t the only way to create an amazing fertilizer your plants will love while reducing your food waste. You can also make banana peel tea! If you eat lots of bananas, this tip is for you. Save your peels and put them in an air-tight jar filled with water. Let it sit for one to two weeks and use the resulting liquid to water your plants. Your plants will thank you! 

4. Freeze food to make it last longer

If you like to cook a lot of food at once, don’t let your leftovers go to waste! Freeze them to prevent spoiling. This works great for soups, sauces, seafood, fruit, meat and even milk. If you tend to buy more than you should, this will help to increase your food’s shelf life, ensuring you get your money’s worth. 

Neighbor Victoria’s Story

Victoria, a former teacher, and her husband, an electrician, relocated to Illinois with their three young children, ages five, seven and nine. After a client failed to pay her husband for a significant $17,000 project, Victoria and her family found themselves searching for answers.

“I would personally like to thank you [donors and the Northern Illinois Food Bank]. It actually brings tears to my eyes because our family was really struggling. What you’re doing here has not only sustained us food-wise, but it’s also given me hope as someone who didn’t used to be in a position of need. And now I am.”

Victoria is thrilled with the quality and variety of food she found at the Glen Ellyn Pantry, one of the 900 food pantries, soup kitchens and feeding programs in our network.

“Last week, there were avocados. There are tomatoes. This week, there’s cantaloupe. I’m just thanking God that there are these expensive organic fruits and vegetables available to us at our time of need.”

Victoria even found ingredients for a special Valentine’s dinner:
“And then I saw that the food pantry had given us all these lovely pork chops with pesto butter.”

As new folks to Illinois, making friends and connecting to people are important to Victoria and her family.

“There are a lot of very gracious folks at this particular pantry. One of the ladies is a realtor and she and I always have excellent conversations. The folks [who] are in charge are just really lovely. And that just really blessed me.”

With three kids in school, Victoria appreciates the school lunch program but finds the summer times more difficult: “The kids in the summer don’t get free lunches at school, so…it’s even harder to make ends meet in the summer.”

Before receiving help from the food pantry, Victoria noted that “we had almost nothing in the refrigerator, and I just didn’t want my kids to experience that. It was tough. And now that we come here, we have enough on a regular basis.”

The food pantry allows Victoria to save money and work toward a new career in nursing after many years of teaching. “I’m a licensed teacher. I’ve worked with kids for about 19 years. I’m pursuing, through the community college, a second career in nursing.” The money Victoria saves by visiting the food pantry she can use to go back to school and pay for other family expenses.

Rising costs have made pursuing career goals more difficult, “The cost of living here going up has really made it challenging to buy food. This [food pantry] really makes it possible for us to pay rent.”

“My husband works full time, and I’ll be going back into the workforce.” But for now, the food pantry helps Victoria and her family make ends meet: “Your generosity is helping people that really are hardworking.”

Janet’s Volunteer Story

When Janet Deisenroth describes her volunteer schedule, she starts with the qualifier “when it’s not golf season.”

That’s because Janet, a 63-year-old retired data analyst, is an avid golfer, and that’s a daytime sport. Her other favorite sport to play, ice hockey, doesn’t interfere with her volunteer schedule as much because her league games are in the evenings. “And I run a women’s league how-to-play hockey group on Sundays,” she adds.

That’s why Janet needs to qualify her schedule. So, in warm months, she “only” volunteers a couple days a week.

In the colder months, you can find Janet on some Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays volunteering in our North Suburban Center in Lake County. Or you might see her at Mobile Markets at College of Lake County, Fox Lake and Waukegan’s Cristo Rey. Sometimes she even helps at special events.

“I like to keep busy, and I think it’s a good cause,” she explains.

Janet’s favorite volunteer job is on Wednesdays as site lead at two distributions for our online food pantry, My Pantry Express. That’s where she gets to interact directly with neighbors, “especially the regulars,” she says. “You kind of get to know them. I enjoy talking to them. You see all that stuff you’re doing when you’re working the warehouse. You see the result and how grateful they are.”

It was a My Pantry Express distribution that created one of her most memorable neighbor interactions.  It was about eight months after the hard shutdown of the pandemic in late 2020.

“One day a lady came up. She had become a regular. She said, ‘I’m so sad today.’” Janet asked why she was sad. “‘I got a job so I don’t need to visit you anymore,’ she answered.”

The woman was so excited for her new job and so thankful for all the help she had received. “It really made you feel like standing out in the cold or the heat [at food distributions] was really, really worth it. People are so appreciative, it makes you want to come back next week.”

Did that neighbor stop coming? “I told her that it was OK to keep coming as she got back on her feet. Pay a few bills. You might need some new clothes for this job. Let us help you.”

And that neighbor took the advice, returning to pick up food for a few weeks.

Janet has been a regular volunteer for about six years. Before that she had taken part in corporate volunteer groups about twice a year, and always enjoyed the experience.

After her retirement, when she found herself alone on Saturdays because her husband still worked those days, she recalled that corporate volunteer experience. “It was winter. We retired in January. What else could I pick up?” she wondered. “I remembered that it’s always fun working at the Food Bank.”

Her first volunteer shift after retiring? “I went alone,” she says. “I just went that first time. I walked in not sure what to expect.” And everyone made her feel right at home.

When her oldest grandchild turned 8, Janet starting turning some of that volunteer time into family time, when she would bring him to participate in some volunteer shifts in the warehouse on Saturdays. That was three years ago and now he’s 11.

“Volunteering is something he and I have in common,” Janet says. “I think it’s important they understand that not everyone is as lucky as they are.”

His visits were paused during the pandemic because it would have been difficult for him to social distance – he loves interacting with all the other volunteers, especially some of the regulars whom he’s gotten to know. But their schedule is back to normal now.

Some of the volunteer jobs are not as much fun for him, Janet admits. Recently they processed a batch of onions, discarding any bad ones and bagging the others to give out through food pantries and distributions. “He said, ‘It was really terrible, but I’ll still come back.’ ” Another grandson tells Janet that he can’t wait for his turn to volunteer, when he turns eight. He’s five now. She says maybe, someday, all five of her grandchildren will be able to volunteer with her. “They are all looking forward to it.”

Cliff’s Neighbor Staff Story

When Cliff Gillette started volunteering with us 14 years ago, he never thought it would shape so much of his retirement, let alone become a family affair.

Now, the 77-year-old widower works full-time as a lead “SNAP-per” for the Food Bank, helping neighbors across Northern Illinois navigate their way out of food insecurity by connecting them with food pantries and aid agencies, and guiding them through the application process for state benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP.

Cliff likes to draw on a movie analogy to explain his job. “Do you remember the scene in Forrest Gump when he is sitting on a park bench with a box of chocolates?” Cliff stresses that his movie analogy is not meant to be trivial. Each experience with each neighbor is so drastically different, he says, and everyone needs support in different ways. “Every call I get is the box of chocolates sitting in front of me. And I never know what I’ll get.”

Cliff works remotely and divides his time between his home in Rockford and his daughter’s home in Ohio. All he needs to do his job is his computer and a secure internet connection – along with patience and a strong sense of empathy.

Cliff confesses that earlier in life when he worked as a retail manager, he thought that all a person needed to support themselves and their family was a job. Then he started volunteering at our center in Rockford and his view completely changed.

“The Food Bank was one of my really first volunteer [experiences] I’d ever done in my life,” Cliff says. “When I started working with the Food Bank the intensity was so impressive.”

Cliff took a part-time position with our newly formed SNAP team then, and said that interacting with neighbors who needed help really changed his perspective as he learned all the different reasons someone might need food assistance.

He remembers meeting a senior couple who had worked all their lives. They both received Social Security, but found themselves having to stretch their budget as they tried to decide between paying for medicine or food. “There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there in these situations,” Cliff says.

He took several years off from working with the Food Bank, returning to full-time employment, then officially retiring, which is when his wife fell ill, ultimately passing a year later.

He describes her illness and his following grief as “adjusting to his wife’s journey,” adding, “I took several years to do that before I came back to the Food Bank.”

And here is where Cliff’s story takes a twist.

Cliff had introduced his son, Chris (who had a background in restaurants) to food banking all those years ago in Rockford. But while Cliff took time off in his retirement, Chris worked at a food bank in South Carolina. But life works in mysterious ways and both Gillettes found themselves starting work here at Northern Illinois Food Bank in 2019. Chris now directs the operations team at our West Suburban Center in Geneva.

“Like me, he got infected,” Cliff jokes, admitting that there probably aren’t many father-son duos working in food banking.

Cliff’s life experience and dedication have made him known within the Food Bank as someone who goes beyond the call to ensure our neighbors know about the services we provide. 

He will work with them through the SNAP application process. The online application is 17 pages, Cliff says, and can be complicated, needing follow-up information. “We’re here for you at the beginning. And we are here for you on the other side,” he says, then adds with emphasis, “We don’t make the decisions.”

“Even when we can’t help them get SNAP benefits because of income guidelines, we can find other ways to help them,” he says. “We still do agency outreach and we connect with agencies a lot.” Those agencies include food pantries, soup kitchens, senior and child services, and more.

His advice to anyone who needs assistance, but isn’t sure they qualify for SNAP: “Call us. We will figure something out to help. Just call us.”