'This will allow us to do more': Food bank opens bigger distribution center in Green Oaks
Rows of tall storage racks to hold a bounty of food have been bolted down and gleaming stainless steel prep tables readied for a surge in volunteers as the Northern Illinois Food Bank enters a new chapter serving Lake and McHenry counties.
The organization's new north suburban distribution center in the Green Oaks Business Park, on Route 176 just east of Interstate 94, is much larger and more centrally located than its former home of 20 years in Park City.
As a supermarket of sorts for food pantries and other entities, the relocation and expansion has been in the works since fall to meet a continuing demand for food assistance.
The expansion comes as the organization across its service area is serving 30% more people on average each month than before the pandemic. "Our emphasis and focus is to make sure we're tending to the pantries and soup kitchens as fast as we can," said Scott Keenan, north suburban center manager.
Keenan joined food bank executives and local officials Tuesday for an official grand opening. Work to convert the 28,000-square-foot warehouselike space started early this year. Distribution didn't stop in the interim, but the improved operation is ready to open full time.
"We knew we wanted to involve more volunteers. We knew we wanted to store more food, especially fresh food," said Julie Yurko, president and CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. "The other center was awesome, but this will allow us to do more."
Refrigeration and freezer space at the new facility has been expanded. Together, the two units can house up to 11 truckloads of food. The goal this fiscal year is that about a third of all food supplied will be produce.
Northern Illinois Food Bank is headquartered in Geneva with distribution centers in Joliet, Rockford and now Green Oaks. It provides 250,000 meals a day through a network of food pantries and feeding programs over a 13-county area.
The North Suburban Center in Green Oaks will continue to serve 210 pantries and programs -- 150 in Lake County and 60 in McHenry County. The new facility provides greater food storage and a larger pickup area for food pantries.
A new orientation space will allow the number of volunteers per shift to be increased from 50 to 100 to sort, label and package food.
In Lake County alone, the number of distributed meals grew from 9.1 million in the fiscal year ending July 1, 2019, to 12.8 million meals this past July 1, an increase of nearly 41%, according to Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The Libertyville Township food pantry, which serves low-income working families and seniors on fixed incomes, is no exception. In July, the pantry served 340 registered households and 737 individuals, compared to 284 households and 570 individuals in July 2021.
"Most of the people who come are working," said Township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor. "It's just that everything is more expensive."
For the fiscal year ending July 1, the North suburban center processed 1.2 million pounds of food and aims to double that at the new location.
The new facility is more visible to the community and includes meeting space that also can be used by agencies and donors.
Visit solvehungertoday.org/ for information on the organization, volunteering and other activities.