From WILL - The Public Square -

Lisa Bralts on the Food For Families Drive

My name is Lisa Bralts, and I'm the Director of Marketing & Development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

Operating out of Urbana, Illinois since 1983, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank currently works with almost 200 agencies and programs in its 14-county service area to serve food-insecure individuals and households - people whose inability to adequately feed themselves and/or their families has been compromised by insufficient financial or other resources. The Foodbank distributed over 5 million pounds of food into its service area in the past year.

The Foodbank's tagline is alleviating hunger; nourishing stronger communities, but we're also fond of saying this: the face of hunger will surprise you. Over the past two years, the Foodbank has increased the number of people it serves through its agencies and programs by nearly 40% from 24,000 in 2004 to an average of 34,000 in 2006. Wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living, and more and more people most wouldn't "expect" - people working full time, people with homes, people who are active in their churches, schools, and within the community - are having a much harder time affording transportation, paying the power bill, dealing with health care costs, etc. Food is often left off the table, so to speak, when it comes to meeting those obligations.

The Foodbank exists to help people eat who otherwise might not, and we're doing a lot of things right. The Backpack program - our weekend feeding initiative that helps elementary-aged children get enough food over the weekend - has expanded to another area school. Changes in our Foodmobile program - mobile food pantries designed to meet the needs of people in underserved areas - reflect the knowledge we've gained regarding nutrition-related issues faced by low- and no-income citizens. In June, we gathered together a panel of experts on health, food, and emergency food provision for a public symposium raising awareness about hunger and the issues facing those in need throughout the community. We're an important resource for the community - we put the food in the food pantries, and the soup in the soup kitchens. While not hidden, we fly beneath the radar much of the year.

This fall marks the 21st anniversary of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank's Food For Families Drive. Since 1986, our communities have come together to provide food and raise money each fall for this 2 week long event. So far this year, area elementary schools are once again collecting non-perishable food; when secondary schools and University of Illinois campus groups heard that the Foodbank can acquire and distribute ten dollars' worth of food for every dollar donated, however, many of them did the math and decided to organize "change drives", encouraging their classmates and instructors to donate their pocket change to the Foodbank. Grocery stores are serving as food dropoff sites, organizations and businesses are running their own food drives, and volunteer food sorting crews are lining up their time slots.

Please visit our website at www.eifoodbank.org or call 217-328-3663 for more information. Food For Families 2007 kicks off at Urbana's Market at the Square on Saturday, October 13 from 9 AM until noon, and runs through Saturday, October 27. At the kickoff, we'll have facepainting, giveaways, and games for the kids, and Foodbank board and staff will be available to answer questions and accept donations of food and cash. We hope to see you there!

Food For Families is a community event in the largest sense of the word; everyone can do something during these two weeks to help a relative, friend, neighbor, or fellow resident get enough to eat. Our goals are to raise $65,000 dollars and 190,000 pounds of food by October 27. Join us as we continue to develop strategies for alleviating hunger and nourishing stronger communities.