Editor’s Note: Parts of this list have been updated from Kate Ross’ 2015 version. Emily Cross wrote updates for 2016. Their respective entries are indicated by their initials. A previous version of this article did not indicate the author of each entry.
We were all taught that giving back is an important responsibility of those of us who have been fortunate enough to come into life with our privileges. What I wasn’t told but quickly realized is just how good it feels to give. It’s both a selfless and selfish act. Whatever that means for you, push yourself to do more — maybe you have few treasures you can give, but you have time, or can use a talent for good.
I’m taking a break today from my day-job and revisiting the article we ran last year called 10 ways to support the hungry in Champaign Urbana. Whatever you do, I promise you that touching someone’s life will bring you joy and a gratitude for the blessings you have in yours.
A friendly note: Although any act of kindness is wonderful, I recommend you read this article before donating food. Charities can do so much more for our community with your dollars (or donations of labor and time!) than all the cans of food you can fit in the trunk of your car. Nobody will turn away your food, but call first and see if there’s anything specific they need. — Emily Cross
1. Donate to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank serves 17 counties and distributes food to 220 emergency food programs, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. According to their website, EIF distributes more than 8.6 million pounds annually on a budget of just over $2 million. Food from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s warehouse reaches more than 116,000 people visiting 220 agencies and programs each year. One in every three of those clients is a child. More at www.eifoodbank.org. (EC)
2. Sign up to help at or donate to the Wesley Food Pantry.
If you hear somebody using the “better to teach a man to fish, don’t just give him fish” excuse for not providing direct service to those in need, challenge them to give to Wesley Food Pantry. They are addressing the root causes of hunger in our community, empowering their clients, and providing vital services to help our friends in crisis. Even better: Wesley is committed to maintaining each client’s dignity. (EC)
The Wesley Food Pantry has operated in the Wesley United Methodist Church on the University of Illinois campus for nearly 10 years, and opened an additional location on Parkland’s campus three years ago. They stand out from other pantries by offering evening distribution (a must if you work and need food, which happens more than you’d think) and allowing clients to choose what they’d like, instead of pre-packed bags.
“We think that clients know what works and doesn’t work for their family. It’s also an excellent way to cut down on food waste,” explains Volunteer Coordinator Brittany Coleman. Visit their volunteer sign-up page to assist with food sorting and distribution.
Wesley distributes every Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Green & Goodwin location and every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Parkland location. (KR)
3. Help the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen.
The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen serves a hot lunch every day to over 200 guests.
“The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen is truly a community,” says volunteer Karen Pickard, and “everyone is welcome.” Open for almost 40 years, and 100% volunteer-run, they offer food and help secure basics like state IDs and birth certificates.
They are about to move to their own, permanent location at 116 North First Street in Champaign. The building, which they bought last year, and renovated with generous donations from the community, will allow them to offer hot lunch every day of the week (currently they serve out of vans on the weekends) and expand their seating and storage, allowing them to serve more guests each day. Funds are always needed for ongoing costs such as food, utilities, maintenance, cleaning, and more.
Donate on the web, or mail a check to Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 648, Champaign, IL 61824-0648.
Daily Bread will have an open house on Sunday, January 8th, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the new location. (KR & EC)
4. What about all the other food pantries?
There are many, each doing important work. Check out the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s list here. Your church or workplace might also have a project you can get involved with or help. (EC)
5. Help Newman Shares address student food insecurity.
Opened in the fall of 2013, the student-led Newman Shares Food Pantry operates as a ministry of the Service and Justice Outreach of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on U of I’s campus. They serve apartment-dwelling students from U of I and Parkland, and, like Wesley, allow clients to pick their own food. Sister Maryann Schaefer added they serve, “not just food, but huge smiles and sweets.”
They love and rely on monetary donations, food drives, and volunteers, and you can email them at [email protected] to pick up a time slot. There’s no need to be affiliated with the Catholic Church to assist or get food from this pantry, and they don’t inquire about your religion, though if you’re wondering, just what exactly would Jesus do? This. (KR)
6. Sort food with Feeding our Kids.
Feeding our Kids is a program that sends bags of food (discreetly placed in backpacks) home with food insecure children over the weekend and school breaks. They sort food most Wednesday afternoons and evenings and are always looking for helpers. Sign up to sort here. Alternatively, sponsor a child’s food for a full school year for just $100 and/or be an advocate for this organization with your school’s PTA and administration. (KR)
7. Serve dinner at Restoration Urban Ministries.
Restoration Urban Ministries offers programs, comprehensive services and temporary housing to clients. They welcome individuals and groups to sign up to prepare and serve a meal for their residents, tend their garden, and sort food in their food pantry, among other needs. (KR)
8. Donate gardening labor, expertise or extra produce.
Support the successful and growing community gardens in Champaign — the Randolph Street Community Garden (run by Dawn Blackman, an inspiring advocate for social justice who also runs the emergency food assistance program at the Champaign Church of the Brethren) and Prosperity Gardens, a relatively new but gorgeous and bustling garden on north First Street. They do awesome things, like teach kiddos about growing food, and could always use volunteers and money.
The Lierman Neighborhood Community Garden provides free produce and sliding-scale plot rental to combat the food desert of East Urbana. If you have extra produce, donate it directly to food pantries and homeless shelters through Sunshine Harvest Sharing, a unique program that makes it easy for individual gardeners to feed the hungry. And make sure to hit up Sola Gratia Farm’s stand at Urbana’s Market at the Square when it opens back up next spring — they donate a minimum of 10% of their yields to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. (KR)
9. Transport food for the Susan Freiburg Memorial Food Surplus Program.
Have you ever watched someone (perhaps yourself) dump a plate of leftover food in the trash? The act is sort of sickening when you think about about all the people who go hungry each day. Enter the Susan Freiburg Memorial Food Surplus Program. Local restaurants, dorms, and school districts donate leftover food to the Champaign-Urbana Coalition for the Homeless and they redistribute the food to shelters and soup kitchens. They need volunteers pick up food in provided FDA-approved containers. (KR)
10. Okay, breathe. You can do this.
Set your New Year’s Resolution this year to grow through giving, read about root causes of hunger, and act on issues you care about. Finally, please, please call elected officials in Illinois (and tell them their inaction on passing a budget hurts our neighbors every day). (EC)
Top image by Kate Ross; Eastern Illinois Foodbank photo from its Facebook page. Newman shares photos courtesy of Sr. Maryann Schaefer; Wesley Food Pantry photo courtesy of Brittany Coleman; Daily Bread photo from its Facebook page. Prosperity Farms photo from Facebook.