Something to chew on: Good things cooking at the Midwest Food Bank

Illinois non-profit is closing the hunger gap at home . . . and worldwide

A distributor of food to regional and local agencies, a first responder for the Salvation Army, and a supplier to international areas in need.

It’s a lot of roles to play for one food bank, but it’s attainable when upwards of 23,000 volunteers are at your disposal.

Midwest Food Bank started with a family delivering food donations to 10 local food pantries in McLean County, Illinois, back in 2003, notes communications director Phil Hodel. The facility has grown so much that its current base of operations is a mammoth 100,000-square-foot warehouse.

And that’s just one of nine operations.

“The organization just grew so fast,” says Hodel. “The more that companies and communities found out about Midwest Food Bank, everyone just wanted to be involved.”

The organization currently services over 1,400 partnering agencies in the United States, who deliver Midwest Food Bank’s food supplies directly to those in need. In 2017, the organization distributed $158 million worth of food.

Not only does MFB donate good, wholesome food—it also has been able to package meals from bulk donations.

Those meals, called Tender Mercies, were created with input from the University of Illinois. MFB’s Kenya operation also serves a version of the meal using local foods.

“In East Africa, using Kenyan food to prepare Tender Mercies helps their economy, and they simply like it better, too,” says Hodel.

MFB became a Salvation Army first responder in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. Today, the organization is one of the first called when disaster strikes, with its international operations soon to include Haiti.

“It’s an amazing partnership, and it’s powered by our volunteers,” says Hodel. “They’re the ones that get in the trucks and drive any distance to a disaster where the deliveries can be taken to hard-to-reach-areas.”

Enbridge’s recent community investment of $5,000 will assist MFB in its overall operations, as the organization is 100 per cent funded by donations and grants. Enbridge employees will also be added to the growing count of volunteers as they visit one of the food bank’s Illinois operations this summer.

Hodel says the sporadic growth is due to the organic expansion of the organization: “In one of our founder’s thank-you calls to a donor a few years ago, he was asked about the potential of starting a location in Arizona—and now, we have an operation in Gilbert, Arizona.”

Hodel likes to point out that 99 cents of each dollar donated are returned to programs and aiding those in need. It’s what he believes partly contributed to MFB being named a “four-star charity” for the sixth year in a row by Charity Navigator, a charity evaluator in the U.S.

“It’s amazingto be able to take that much of a donation and turn it into food for someone. Just for a few cents, you can feed a family of four.”

(TOP PHOTO: Midwest Food Bank volunteers prepare disaster relief packages for hurricane victims in summer 2017.)