MORRIS – Minooka Mayor Pat Brennan toured We Care of Grundy County’s facility Tuesday as part of the National Mayors Day of Recognition for Service by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
While there, Brennan met with AmeriCorps VISTA member Giovani Jaimes, who is serving a one-year volunteer assignment with Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Jaimes provides “capacity building” consulting to community food pantries and feeding programs in Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall and Will counties, on behalf of the NIFB.
There is a need to cure hunger in Grundy County, Jaimes said. Citing statistics in a Map the Meal Gap 2015 study, he said 20.8 percent of children in the county are considered food insecure.
“Hunger is a symptom of poverty,” Jaimes said. “A lot of it comes from whether someone can find consistent, substantial income.”
Fisher said We Care is doing what it can, along with other agencies in the county, to help break the cycle of poverty. When progress is made in lowering the poverty rate, progress will be made in closing the meal gap.
In 2015, the Grundy County meal gap was 979,000 meals, Jaimes said. About 551,000 meals, or 59 percent of the gap, were distributed through food pantries, youth programs, senior programs and direct distribution.
Fisher believes the next step toward closing the meal gap in Grundy County could be the creation of the Pathways of Hope program, which will be funded by The Salvation Army. It aims to provide quality case management services for individuals in need. Ultimately, providing food is just a short-term solution.
Jaimes added that breaking the cycle of poverty is about more than supplying food – it’s about providing opportunities for people to get out of a crisis situation.
According to SalvationArmy.org, Pathways of Hope assigns a caseworker to design a plan around one’s individual goals, needs and strengths. People can expect assistance with finding job training, health services, childcare, education, housing options and legal services.
Another big step was made when We Care expanded in January its food pantry services to the rest of Grundy County, Fisher said. Brennan said We Care has always done great things, but because of these latest steps and more to come, “it’s getting better and better.”
Tuesday was the second time Brennan has toured We Care’s building at 530 Bedford Road in Morris since it moved 13 months ago. In that short time, We Care has filled up more space but still has room to grow, as funding permits. Brennan was impressed with the 10-foot-by-20-foot walk-in freezer and refrigerator.
“That’s a really big deal,” Brennan said. “It’s a great addition.”
Fisher said the walk-in allows We Care to stock milk, which is the most difficult to secure because it is perishable, yet it’s the most requested item in food pantries.