Loaves & Fishes Relies on Food, Funds and Friends to Help Growing Numbers in Need

Since 2008, the number of new families seeking food from Loaves & Fishes has increased 86 percent. Children make up 44 percent of those the organization feeds.

Shakesha Dye is a mom to an 8-year-old boy. She is an aunt sharing her home with her 19-year-old niece and her niece’s baby. And she is a student working toward a bachelor’s degree at .

Between caring for her family and managing her studies, Dye, 30, also works part time at a business she started, Senior Assist. What money she earns helps pay her bills. Making ends meet has been challenging for Dye and she turned to for help and support. 

Dye, who had a volatile childhood, acknowledges that her faith in God has kept her going over the years. So, when she went to Loaves & Fishes and found representatives from there asking people if they were interested in a career-transition program, she said it was divine intervention that she just happened to go to the food pantry that day.

“It was an amazing experience, just like a full grocery store,” Dye said of Loaves & Fishes. “I didn’t realize all of the resources that were available.”

Dye said she had visited Loaves & Fishes once before more than a year ago, when the food pantry was still on Fifth Avenue, behind . At that time she wasn’t working and needed food. But she hadn’t returned until about six months ago after her niece moved in with her. That was when she realized she needed help because the food she would buy wasn’t meeting her expanded family’s needs. 

“I did have my pride,” she said. “But I got over myself.” 

Loaves & Fishes helped put food on her family’s table and even provided lunch packs for her son to take to school, she said.

“I think the worst thing in the world is a kid being hungry,” she said. 

Charles McLimans, executive director and CEO for Loaves & Fishes agrees. Since opening the pantry’s new location, Loaves & Fishes has been able to serve more people. The pantry now serves all of DuPage County.

If the organization hadn’t moved to its new location, he said, it would have been turning people away and some people would have been left hungry.

The opening of Loaves & Fishes new facility in January came at a critical time, he said. The nonprofit has been experiencing significant growth in the numbers of clients seeking its services since 2008 (in fact an 86 percent increase in new families). The nonprofit anticipated the increased need and built and designed the facility with that in mind. 

The face of hunger in DuPage County is changing, and to illustrate that he said one board member said, “What is most remarkable is that person looked just like me.”

Dye said she has seen all types of people at the pantry from those who look like they are career-minded to those who look like single mothers just trying to provide for their families.

The number of people seeking out the nonprofit has increased because many families have a gap in benefits, they earn too much to qualify for assistance, but not enough to feed themselves on their income, McLimans said. The federal poverty level is $22,000 for a family of four.

“We encourage people not to wait until the last minute” to visit the pantry, he said. “This is a community resource.”

The new facility has improved the experience for clients, with intake areas that provide privacy, an improved waiting area and a shopping area on par with any grocery store, said Jody Bender, Loaves & Fishes community relations director.

The new facility also offers rooms for Loaves & Fishes partners to put on programs, whether offering counseling sessions or job skills programs. For example, during the tax season space was made available for a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Loaves & Fishes plans to expand that program this coming tax season.

Dye said she didn’t realize those programs existed until she revisited the nonprofit. She has learned what a vital community resource Loaves & Fishes provides.

“It’s not just about the food,” she said. “It’s about the people in the community and the resources that are available.”

As more people take advantage of the resources at Loaves & Fishes, the nonprofit is also dealing with a reduction in the amount of commodities it receives, McLimans said. Commodities are items such as peanut butter, canned meats, such as tuna and canned vegetables.

Congress slashed the budget on USDA commodities, he said, adding it’s not just a problem for Loaves & Fishes but for all food pantries.

In the first two months of the current fiscal year, Loaves & Fishes went through four months worth of its budget trying to make up for the loss in commodities, he said.

As it works to continue to feed those in need, McLimans said, the three greatest resources Loaves & Fishes needs to be successful are food, funds and friends.

Since McLimans said the organization sees no positive changes in the economy happening any time soon, those three resources will continue to be in demand.

The month of August was the busiest in Loaves & Fishes history, with 2,400 families and 9,308 individuals served, he said.

Since 2008, the number of single mothers seeking assistance at Loaves & Fishes has increased 143 percent, McLimans said. And about 44 percent of all those it serves are children under the age of 18.

Over the last three months alone, it has had 761 new families register, while in fiscal year 2011 (July 2010 – June 2011) there were 1,496 new families. Year-to-date the pantry’s numbers are 56 percent higher.

And, the holidays aren’t here yet.

McLimans estimates the organization will serve about 4,000 families for the holidays and that includes Thanksgiving and Christmas. A virtual fundraiser is being held online to help raise money to buy turkeys for families.

“We want our people to have the same experience at the holidays,” he said. “We are trying to offer dignity and hope to lift them up.”

Community support of the nonprofit continues to be strong, he said.

“We are very lucky to live in a caring community,” he said. “People are not giving to Loaves & Fishes, they are giving to members of the community.” 

In this difficult economy food and shelter continue to be basic needs that must be met, he said, adding that Loaves & Fishes focus continues to be building awareness that the organization is there to help those in need.

Dye agrees that the resources it offers are a wonderful help. She said she was hesitant about seeking help, but she had to set her pride aside and do what would help her family. In the process she has found other resources that will help her as she pursues her degree in spirituality and wellness development/entrepreneurship. She will graduate next year with her bachelor's degree.

She envisions opening a spiritual rehabilitation center to help people from the inside out, she said. And, she also envisions giving back to Loaves & Fishes for what she has received. 

Another way for members of the community to give back to the nonprofit is by attending the Rotary Club of Naperville's Soup’s On!, which will be held Sunday at Tellabs. Loaves & Fishes is one of three recipients of funding from the event. The other two beneficiaries are Hesed House and DuPage PADS.

The event will raise about $120,000 to be split three ways among the nonprofits, McLimans. For Loaves & Fishes that money means people will have holiday meals.

Dye’s family may be one of the beneficiaries. She was at the pantry two weeks ago to pick up food, she said. Picking up groceries at Loaves & Fishes frees up money so that she can take care of other needs, such as paying a bill.

“It almost provides a certain amount of comfort knowing there is somewhere I can go where I can get food and know my kids won’t go hungry,” Dye said.

will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Atrium at Tellabs. 




wendy hayum-gross October 14, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Thank you for a great article Mary Ann, being a board member of Loaves and Fishes I appreciate how you shared the dignity and services we offer our clients. We are blessed to have this resource in own community and all the volunteers and donors who make it available for all of us!
Mary Ann Lopez October 14, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Thank you Wendy. Here's hoping that lots of money is raised this weekend at Soup's On! to help Loaves & Fishes mission. It is a great resource for so many in the community.


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