Throughout the holiday season many food banks and organizations step up to provide those in need with food and holiday-related items. Through these food pantries and programs these organizations are able to brighten up the holiday season for millions of families across the country. With the economic burden that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had on some families, more Americans are being impacted by food insecurity than years prior. According to Feeding America, the national food insecurity rate in 2019 was 10.9%, with 10.7 million affected Americans. In 2020, this rate was projected to have jumped to 13.9%, and is projected at 12.9% for 2021, with 42 million affected Americans. Here are some of the local organizations that have stepped up to provide food and gifts to Americans in need this holiday season.
The Salvation Army
Amid the pandemic, the Salvation Army is once more brightening up the holidays with their Red Kettles.
Red Kettles are the well-known red buckets that collect donations to support the services around the communities nationwide. These donations are used as additional financial support and will also fund 50 social service programs, food pantries, after-school programs and homeless shelters. Nearly “70% of the Salvation Army’s donations for any given year are collected during the holidays,” according to The Chicago Tribune.
However, with the pandemic, it still means fewer Red Kettles and shoppers who are out and about. So, for the first time, through the magic of technology, the kettles will have Venmo and PayPal as options to donate.
Donors are also able to donate through their “Virtual Red Kettle” website as well like last year to donate specifically to Chicago. Through September 16 – January 31, anyone can donate through the website. As of now, the Salvation Army has raised a little over 65% of their $100,000 goal through their “Salvation Army’s Virtual Red Kettle” nationwide donation website. This gives an option to make a difference while at home.
These new options are intended to keep both donors and volunteers safe in the season of giving, which is why volunteers are still continuing to follow the guidelines by wearing face masks and social distancing. From the Chicago Tribune, Lt. Col. Lonneal Richardson, division commander of the Salvation Army’s metropolitan division, pointed out that “your donation to the Red Kettles could mean the difference between a family being able to cover the rent, keep the lights and heat on and stay in their homes.” These donations to the program are their way to ensure that “Hope Marches On.”
Northern Illinois Food Bank
There’s also the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) which is able to provide for those during the holiday season. Their vision is to serve food to all those in need across America and America’s 13 neighboring countries by providing 250,000 meals a day.
With nearly 1,000 volunteers a week to help evaluate, repack, and distribute food they’re able to meet those needs and bring together “manufacturers, local and corporate grocers, area farmers, corporations, foundations, and individuals who donate food and funding” in the process.
Like other food banks, due to COVID-19, NIFB has strived to improve the lives of neighbors who have been impacted financially.
Jennifer Clark, Marketing Communications Manager, has explained that families are “trying to decide whether they’re going to pay for groceries, pay for rent, or pay for medicine, we’re certainly helping them take one of those off their plate.” And “through the 900 food pantries, soup kitchens, and feeding programs that we partner with,” they hope to lighten the stress on families as much as possible. Especially during the holiday season where presents are on the list of expenses.
They may not have any unique volunteer opportunities during the holiday season but they’re constantly looking for volunteers year round to help with the distributions. NIFB has hundreds of volunteering opportunities throughout the year. One of them being volunteering at the Geneva Center and distributing food.
Though, it’s been harder to find supplies for the inventory since the prices during the current food shortage have been going up. That’s why one of the biggest struggles right now for NIFB is “making sure the food is nutritious and it’s hard finding fresh vegetables and other fresh products so that we’re providing both options to our neighbors as well” as Clark says.
But as students there are some ways we can help. For volunteering opportunities, students can go on their website solvehungertoday.org/volunteering to find options, food drives to participate in, and small donations. What’s also important is to spread the word about the opportunities.
Clark pointed out that “there’s a stigma around that, people feel that they can’t ask for help and that somebody else needs it more.” And because of that, it’s up to us as students to raise awareness that there are students who do need help and don’t have enough food. This will help spread awareness that these locations for the aid they need are there for them.
The Lazarus House
Locally in St. Charles, we have the Lazarus House which offers services in supporting those in the community by providing shelter, food, hospitality, and education. It’s another place where you can donate and/or volunteer this holiday season.
One generous donor is Anna Price, a junior here at East, who has donated to Lazarus House while she’s been working at Panera.
“It was heartbreaking to see all the food after every night going to waste when I knew there was someone who was hungry and would want that food,” Price said.
After work every night, she’d ask her co-workers to take out all the leftovers or about-to-be-thrown out foods, like bread, and take them to Lazarus House. Since Price doesn’t have her driver’s license, though, she enlisted the help of Maggie Rich and Emily Thompson, two juniors at East who drive Price and make it possible for these donations to make it to Lazarus House.
Price noted that it has been hard to donate due to the pandemic struggles of businesses. When Price first started at Panera, they didn’t do any donations there because of COVID, since companies were not accepting donations due to virus protocol. This made it hard to find a place to donate. Price has also tried donating to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, but they didn’t accept it either since there was no label on the donations. Then, Price found Lazarus House, which “accepted donations of any kind.”
She hopes that these donations feed the people in Lazarus House; and, if there are consistent donations, that they’ll be able to have a reliable food supply during the holidays.
The Annual “Turkey Drive”
East students are participating in yet another year of school initiatives to help local families during this season. The Turkey Drive is an annual food drive to make Thanksgiving more accessible; students brought in a variety of food donations throughout the week of November 15th to provide Thanksgiving dinners to needy families in the St. Charles area.
With a goal of compiling 100 complete meals, students were asked to bring in frozen turkeys and other canned goods and meals were subsequently delivered on Friday, November 19, just in time for Thanksgiving. The drive was successful at compiling meals for 83 local families in the community
The East Student Council was at the head of making the Turkey Drive a reality, and senior Student Council member Audrey Jones says, “This year’s Turkey Drive was a competition between classes and it motivated more people to bring food items to win.”
Canned cranberries, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and canned gravy were among the generous donations by East families to provide meals for the underprivileged.
Jones also says, “It was a really great turnout and it helped a lot of families in this holiday season.”
Wyatt Snopko, a freshman, and his younger brother Porter Snopko, an eighth-grader at Thompson Middle School started a sock and underwear drive in 2016 with the help of their parents. The annual clothing drive is called Snopko Socks and they’re looking for new socks, underwear, masks, and other clothing products in all sizes.
Wyatt Snopko says, “I just think of it as a good opportunity to help out your neighbors and your friends and your family who need help, and it makes me feel good, I hope it makes other people feel good donating and helping out people who can’t exactly help themselves.”
The donations go to local shelters like Lazarus House in St. Charles, Hessed House in Aurora, and other charitable organizations.
Before the boxes are taken away a couple of weeks after winter break, you can drop off your donation in rooms B221, B121, and C135.
Snopko says, “My favorite part is towards the end where we actually bring them to the shelters because it’s fun… [the kids in the area] they get all excited when they see the stuff.”
Some notable achievements that the Snopko brothers have accomplished have been several articles written about their clothing drive, one of them being in the Daily Herald. They’ve also been on Chicago’s WGN radio hosted by Steve Cochran in 2019, and just last year they were awarded the St. Charles Youth Impact Commission Award, which is an award given to kids who have designed and led projects by themselves in the community.
The message the Snopko brothers are trying to get across is the meaning and importance of giving back to the community, no matter if you can or can’t donate this year.