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Learning to fish: Loaves & Fishes hosts Day Without Hunger

Susan Frick Carlman
scarlman@stmedianetwork.com | @scarlman
June 13 3 p.m.

On the seventh Day, no one rested. There was just too much going on.

Naperville’s leading hunger-relief agency hosted its seventh annual Day Without Hunger commemoration Friday, and used the occasion in part to announce its recent rebranding. Instead of calling itself a pantry, the 30-year-old nonprofit is now Loaves & Fishes Community Services.

The concept is true to the agency’s long-term mission of empowering people in the community with the tools they need to maintain or regain self-reliance.

After starting out with a group of St. Raphael Church parishioners who in 1984 took on the task of providing food for eight low-income families, the pantry now provides an array of services to more than 2,700 households in and around Naperville every month. The time had come to move beyond the pantry moniker.

But there was more to celebrate than the new name. The organization, at a separate event on the same morning, was distinguished by the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago as its 2013-14 Safety Net Impact Agency of the Year.

Charles McLimans, Loaves & Fishes’ president and CEO, was pleased with the honor, but it wasn’t the first time the agency has been singled out for the work it does.

“We have received national recognition and acclaim for developing a best-practices model of a multi-service, anti-poverty hunger relief organization,” McLimans said in remarks that kicked off the daylong event. “We together make a difference, as demonstrated through our innovative service model that combines food assistance with multifaceted empowerment programs, such as job search support, skill-based classes, public benefits assistance, nutrition and wellness programs, and other essential services as the need arises.”

Empowering families in those ways, he said, is the most sustainable path to ending local hunger — and that’s what motivates the agency.

“This issue is closer to home than you may think,” said McLimans, who expected as many as 3,000 people to turn out for the Day Without Hunger activities. “16.4 percent of children in DuPage County live in food-insecure households.”

Numerous studies have shown that when a family isn’t assured of three daily meals, it takes a toll on children’s physical, mental and intellectual well-being.

Even though hunger awareness is on the rise locally, Naperville still carries a reputation elsewhere of being a place where such things don’t happen. Illinois Sen. Mike Connelly hears it from fellow state legislators.

“In Springfield, oftentimes (people say) ‘Well, you guys represent Naperville. Everyone’s rich in Naperville; the roads are paved in gold,’” he said. “And I try to tell them that’s not true, that we have real community needs, that we have real poverty.”

There is also a base of economically comfortable residents, however, whose willingness to share also distinguishes the city from other communities. Loaves & Fishes’ first public fundraising effort, launched quietly in early 2013 with a $6 million goal and known as the Power of Community campaign, is already more than halfway to the target sum. The progress offered another reason to celebrate at Friday’s event.

The endeavor is aimed at maximizing the benefit of partnerships that enable Loaves & Fishes to provide $10 worth of goods and services to clients for every $1 donated. The collaborative work helps the agency offer programs well beyond the provision of nonperishable food, which is seen as the key to ending hunger.

The agency also is working on ways to expand their services, including new distribution locations for their grocery markets.

“It’s our goal to make the successful Loaves & Fishes model more accessible to more low-income people throughout our region,” McLimans said.

The day’s celebrations were gratifying for the top administrator at the agency, who looks forward to seeing what its next 30 years will bring.

“It’s Loaves & Fishes 3.0,” he said.

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