People to be thankful for: Itasca CEO helps put hundreds of holiday meals on families' tables
On his way to work in the first spring months of the pandemic, Jason Kinander had this nagging feeling that wouldn't go away.
"I drove by a local food pantry in DuPage County, and I saw how many cars were lined up to get food assistance, and it really bothered me," he said.
Kinander is the CEO of his family-owned business in Roselle. His company bio says he started working a factory job there at 16, changing light bulbs and sweeping floors. Now 55, Kinander has built a successful career, but he's still someone who asks the people around him, "What can I do to help?"
When masks, goggles and gloves were nearly impossible to find, Kinander stepped up to supply the DuPage County sheriff's office with personal protective equipment.
"He went to private buyers and internet sales and did a lot of stuff to get us PPE during COVID," Sheriff James Mendrick said.
But Kinander felt compelled to do more.
An idea came to him as Mendrick was starting an effort to feed families in need. The sheriff called the program "It Takes a Village," a sentiment shared by Kinander.
Mendrick's department partnered with Meals on Wheels to distribute food twice a month, mostly for seniors.
On a chilly morning last Saturday, just as they did last year, sheriff's deputies and volunteers served a Thanksgiving bounty to people waiting in a long, double line of cars wrapped around the county government campus in Wheaton.
It wouldn't have been possible without Kinander. His company, Electri-Flex, donated 800 turkeys for the sheriff's department, food pantries and other area nonprofits to give to people struggling with hunger.
"Jason wears his heart on his sleeve," Mendrick said. "He is a generous man. He's a successful businessman. And I love it because he genuinely wants to give back."
Overlooking no detail, Kinander's employees provide foil roasting pans for the turkeys, each of which tips the scales at 15 to 20 pounds. During the week before Thanksgiving, they turn a production facility that makes electrical conduit into a meal-packing assembly line.
Boxes were filled with turkeys, cooking instructions, mashed potatoes and canned vegetables. DuPage County Board member Jim Zay donated 550 bags of stuffing.
Some of the boxes were bound for food pantries in Bloomingdale, Addison and Lisle Township in addition to community organizations throughout the county.
Electri-Flex also rented a freezer truck to deliver the remaining 250 turkeys and dinner kits to Wheaton. In a brisk two hours, sheriff's personnel loaded cars with the Thanksgiving spread, plus Meals on Wheels boxes, to help families make it through the holidays.
"It looks like an emissions testing," Mendrick said of the turnout. Families picked up essentially a week's worth of food and a turkey for Thanksgiving.
"There's still a tremendous amount of need for people that are going hungry," said Kinander, whose company provided 1,000 turkeys last year. "Food, it's expensive. They're living paycheck to paycheck. Their lives have been disrupted by something that they had no control over."
A testament to its name, "It Takes a Village" relies on businesses to address food insecurity. Itasca accounting firm Fates, Bodily and Parker; Precision Stamping Products; recycling nonprofit SCARCE; the Roselle Police Association Foundation; and Lisle Township also sponsored the Thanksgiving distribution event.
Every once in a while, Kinander will get a thank-you letter or a message from someone who received a meal.
"It's touching when you get a voicemail on your phone at work," he said. "They think it's the greatest thing in the world that they received a week's worth of food during a holiday."
But he's not looking for acknowledgment. He declined to say how much the donations cost. Electri-Flex also contributed hams over Easter and chicken and bratwursts for the Fourth of July.
Mendrick presented him with a sheriff's award recognizing his support. But again, Kinander doesn't like to dwell on the honor.
"I was humbled by it. Undeserving. There's a lot of people in this community who do a lot of great things," the Itasca resident said. "And I was touched and humbled and floored by it."
And what about that nagging feeling, that desire he has to help?
"If I know Jason, we'll be at this again next year," Mendrick said.