At the intersection of East Calhoun and Dudley streets in Macomb, in the northeast corner of the First Presbyterian Church is a magical cupboard. This cupboard doesn't hold clothes or shoes or forgotten treasures. This cupboard is full of food and with it hope for a better tomorrow. This month Loaves & Fishes is celebrating 25 years of keeping that magical closet stocked to serve residents of McDonough County. This all-volunteer organization composed of twelve religious congregations scattered throughout the county provides food, and assistance with emergency housing, utilities, and medical bills to those in need.
Poverty and food insecurity are a reality of rural America. According to FeedingAmerica.org, in 2016 2.4 million rural households were food insecure and 86% of the counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity were rural counties. The latest US Census Bureau information places 20.2% of all households in McDonough County at or below the poverty level.
The statistics may have changed over the last 25 years, but poverty and food insecurity has always been present in our community. Chronic levels of food insecurity, especially among children, and the need to do something about it, lead the way when Loaves & Fishes opened its doors on October 4, 1993.
Operating under the guiding principles of doing good to help others, Father Richard Pricco of St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Rev. Ronald Rosenau of First Presbyterian Church were instrumental in founding the organization. As the need grew to be more than these two churches could support on their own, ten other congregations in McDonough County joined in to offer their assistance. Board members who represent each congregation meet monthly to assess the needs of the community and determine how best to address it. Each congregation is also responsible for ensuring that the pantry is fully stocked for one month each year.
In addition to board members, approximately 30 to 40 volunteers donate 90 to 120 hours of their time each month to stocking and distributing food.
In 2017, the monthly average of the pantry was 438 households or 1459 individuals in McDonough County. During the summer months, the need increases as children are out of school. This summer clients were able to benefit from the generosity of local farmers and the University of Illinois Master Gardeners who donated fresh produce like tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, peppers, and sweetcorn to the pantry.
Loaves & Fishes will celebrate its Silver anniversary on Sunday, October 7, from 2 to 4 pm in the parlor of First Presbyterian Church, located at 400 East Carroll in Macomb. We hope that public will join us in marking this milestone. Some of the volunteers will describe their work with the food pantry, and refreshments will follow. Tours of the pantry will also be available as will information on how those interested in volunteering can join us. Refreshments have been donated by our local Hy-Vee and by The Jackson Street Market. Both of these stores accept our food vouchers and we are grateful for their continued support and collaboration.
If you are unable to join us in the celebration and wish to donate to our organization you may do so by sending your contribution to Loaves & Fishes in care of the First Presbyterian Church.
Loaves & Fishes is an example of a group of individuals who have worked together for the last quarter of a century to make our community a better place for everyone. I hope that you will join me on Sunday in celebrating this remarkable achievement.
Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.