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West Chicago District 33 to transform classroom into food pantry thanks to grant

WEST CHICAGO – Helping families in need is the goal of not only Northern Illinois Food Bank but also WeGo Together for Kids, a program that serves the children and families of West Chicago Elementary School District 33 schools.

Having teamed up in the past to provide a mobile food pantry program, backpack program and emergency food boxes to District 33 families, the dynamic duo of the food bank and WeGo Together for Kids recently joined forces with Morgan Stanley through a $50,000 grant that will fund a school-based food pantry for students and their families.

WeGo Together for Kids will receive 68 percent of the funds, or $34,000, for the project. The remaining $16,000 will support the Family Care Closet school pantry in North Chicago, said Julie Yurko, president and CEO of Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Representatives from Morgan Stanley presented the check Aug. 6 to the food bank, which found the grant through Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that works with national partners and accepts donor contributions, such as the one from Morgan Stanley.

Marjory Lewe-Brady, District 33’s director of partnerships for wellness, safety and achievement, attended the check presentation ceremony.

“We have a marvelous relationship with Northern Illinois Food Bank,” Lewe-Brady said. “They are always
looking to decrease food insecurity, and they found this grant for us. What this money leverages is so much more than weekly access to food. It is a dignified way to serve a family in need.”

Lewe-Brady said that with the grant, a classroom at Leman Middle School in West Chicago will be converted into a food pantry that District 33 families will be able to visit to select what they need.

The district serves about 4,600 students from birth through eighth grade, she said.

“We are very excited to start installing the refrigerators and freezers to get this program started,” Lewe-Brady said.

The pantry within the school will include two commercial-sized refrigerators and two commercial-sized freezers, and it will be designed to look and feel like a grocery store offering fresh produce, bakery goods, dairy products, meats and non-perishable foods.

Families will need to register for the pantry once, and then they will be able to shop there once a week.

Lewe-Brady hopes the program will be up and running by mid-fall.

With the new school pantries opening this year in West Chicago and North Chicago, Northern Illinois Food Bank now has four school pantry programs, including ones in DeKalb and Belvidere.

Partnering with schools is a growing strategy for food banks, Yurko said.

“Families need a safe place and a trusted place to go to receive the food they need, and that tends to be schools,” she said. “We learned of this grant opportunity through Feeding America and thought of District 33, so we applied this past spring.”

Morgan Stanley not only donated a generous check to the food bank, 32 staff from four company offices in Geneva, Naperville, Lisle and Oak Book were in attendance for the presentation.

The Morgan Stanley Foundation sponsored this grant through paycheck deductions, said Tim Byrnes, complex manager of the Chicago West offices. The Morgan Stanley employees in attendance, mostly all Geneva residents, all made paycheck deductions, as well as a volunteer commitment.

“We just do what we do to take care of the kids,” said Frank Isabelli, who works from the Morgan Stanley Geneva office.

Taking care of the kids, as well as the families, is at the heart of the new program, Lewe-Brady said.

“The goal is to not need a food pantry and eliminate food insecurity,” she said. “This helps to get to know families better and connect to resources. We want the families to feel respected, and that is what this program brings to them.”

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