By Sara Shouhayib
Over 1,200 runners and walkers took their place at the starting line of the second annual Foodie 5K race on Saturday morning and raised $130,000 to fight hunger.
That’s enough money to provide the equivalent of $1 million worth of groceries to feed hungry people in Northern Illinois.
“We know that one in seven of our neighbors are at risk of missing meals in the coming year,” said Julie Yurko, president and CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, serving 13 counties.
“It’s also one in five children, which is really heartbreaking for me as a mom and for so many of us,” said Yurko. “The truth is there are more people living in poverty in the suburbs of Chicago than in the city itself.”
The annual fundraiser at Cantigny Park in Wheaton is organized by the food bank, to raise not only money but also awareness about the number of people struggling with hunger in the area.
Pinky Jain of suburban Winfield said it’s an issue at Pleasant Hill Elementary School where her sons go to school. This is her second year participating in the race.
“Hunger is definitely an issue in our community, which surprised us. In the boys’ school typically one out of four children that attend school does get a subsidized lunch,” she said. “It is definitely an issue that a lot of people are unaware of and so supporting this cause today, this Foodie 5K, is to build awareness of the need for local communities, local neighbors that do need help in getting healthy nutritious foods provided to them.”
The Northern Illinois Food Bank provides support to Boone, DuPage, DeKalb, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will and Winnebago counties. It has its food bank centers in Lake, Rockford and Geneva counties. The food bank is a part of the larger Feeding America Network that consists of hundreds of food banks across the country.
Cook County, where one in six people struggles with hunger, is served by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Yurko said that every dollar donated is equivalent to $8 worth of groceries because of time given by volunteers and food donations that the food bank receives.
“There is enough food thanks to our very generous food donors, our retailers, our manufacturers who when there’s food their not taking to market, that they give to us so that we can give it out to our hungry neighbors,” she said.
Grocery stores are large contributors to the food bank when they are looking to restock their shelves. Meijer was the main sponsor of the Foodie 5K. The chain also contributed by providing bananas and cereal at the finish line for participants.
Culligan, the water treatment company, is another sponsor of the event. They offered bottled water for walkers and runners in the race.
“We chose to come out today because we like to be involved in the community and we also found out that the proceeds go to helping the less fortunate, the hungry neighbors so it was a no brainer for us,“ said Sean Panzeca, office manager of the company’s Wheaton location .
Nine food trucks selling meals were also present for the “foodie” theme of the day, some coming back for the second year in a row.
Yurko said she is confident that hunger in Northern Illinois is solvable.
“Right now, we’re providing just over 50 million meals [a year], which I think is great but we have a great big hairy audacious goal of meeting the meal gap -providing 75 million meals annually by the year 2020,” she said.
The food bank hosts two more races this year that will follow a similar format to the Foodie 5K to raise funds. Races are planned in Libertyville in May and another in Joliet in October.