The Northern Illinois Food Bank family has suffered the loss of its founding staff member, Mary Hayes. Mary, who worked for the Food Bank for 25 years, was instrumental in shaping the organization from its modest beginnings as the Bethlehem Center to become the 13-county food clearinghouse it is today. She died on January 24, 2018 at age 78.
Mary Hayes was a 45-year resident of Glen Ellyn, and was known for a selfless drive to improve the lives of those around her. As the founding employee of the Bethlehem Center, Mary would often pick up food herself and bring it to those in need, seeing firsthand the importance of caring for our neighbors.
“Mary was a constant presence and a “true north” for everyone involved in the Food Bank’s mission,” said Northern Illinois Food Bank CEO Julie Yurko. “Her clarity of purpose helped shape the programs that have become the cornerstone of what we do each day.”
Throughout her years at the Food Bank, Mary was instrumental in identifying and addressing food instability in our community. She personally delivered meals during the summer to 50 children a week in her white Nissan – the first incarnation of the program that now boasts 10 drivers delivering nearly 340,000 meals each summer.
In 1994, Mary led the effort to join Feeding America and become part of the national network to combat hunger.
“I worked with Mary right from the start of my career at Feeding America as I was the compliance auditor for the Bethlehem Center almost 25 years ago,” said Stephanie Dragatsis, Vice President of Compliance and Capability, Feeding America. “Every time I visited the Food Bank I was greeted with a big hug, no matter the circumstance. Working with Mary will always be one of the highlights and special memories of my career. She was the most kind and humble person with a wonderful sense of humor and infectious laugh.”
With Mary’s help, in its first full year of service the Food Bank distributed 64,000 pounds of food to 80 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. That number has grown and the Food Bank is able to provide more than 65.5 million meals every year to families across Northern Illinois. From the start, she was a constant presence at the Food Bank and in the community.
A single mother of five children and grandmother to nine grandchildren, Mary’s greatest source of pride was her family.
“There’s no question that Mary’s work has touched the lives of tens of thousands of people in our community,” said Yurko. “We are all better for having known her and her legacy will be felt for years to come.”