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1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 children are missing meals not by choice. Here are some of their stories.

Weathering the Storm

Fact: Each year, River Bend Foodbank serves more than 125,000 individuals.

Jenny and her daughter never thought they’d be one of those 125,000 people. Not until a tornado blew their home three feet off its foundation.

The single mother and her daughter had always enjoyed shopping together and taking turns cooking supper. After the tornado they found temporary shelter with friends until their home could be repaired, but with their home and the food inside gone, their monthly food budget didn’t last long. Luckily their local food pantry was able to provide them with some shelf-stable food that got them through a very trying time.

“Jenny was very proud of the fact she’d always been able to take care of herself and her daughter and was reluctant to take help,” says a pantry volunteer. “But we were able to help her with the food and get her disaster aid to help her pay for home repairs.”

With a Little Help

Fact: In 2015, 46,070 children in our community were missing meals not by choice.

Margaret was never afraid of working hard. In fact, she worked three part-time jobs to keep a roof over the heads and food in the stomachs of her four children. During the year when the kids were in school, receiving school lunch, and participating in the River Bend Foodbank’s Backpack Program, she managed to make ends meet.

Summer was a different issue. With the kids at home there was never enough food in the house, and her paper-thin budget was stretched even further. The rent needed to be paid, and she was at risk of having her power cut off. “The first time she showed up at our door looking for a little help, there were tears in her eyes,” a pantry volunteer recalls. “She said, ‘I never thought I would be here,’ but I assured her that there were a lot of people who visit us each month.”

Since then Margaret has visited the pantry on a regular basis and brought the children to the pantry’s summer meals program. Bills are still a struggle, but not insurmountable.

“Sometimes people just need a little help,” the volunteer says.

A Veteran’s Pride

Fact: 18% of households we serve have a member who is a veteran or served in the US military.

The first day Jim entered a River Bend Foodbank pantry, he simply asked to use the bathroom. His large pack strapped across his back indicated he was probably homeless. A quiet Navy veteran, he was too proud to ask for help. He was obviously hungry, but not willing to take food from “others who might need it more.”

“He left his pack in the lobby, so I quickly stuffed a bag of food that included some teriyaki spam and peaches, plus a note that said, ‘Hey, Jim, these were some extras we had that I thought I ought to share’,” volunteer Amber says.

After that Jim started to come in more often, have a cup of coffee and take a few “extras.” Eventually Amber was able to connect him with other social workers and now he is set up in permanent housing and eats fairly regularly. “And to think it all started with some teriyaki spam I ordered from River Bend Foodbank,” Amber says.

A Meal and a Friend

FACT: 40% of people water down their food or drinks to stretch their supply

For some, nourishment of the heart is as important as filling the stomach.

Vern and Mazie were soul mates, and even though money was tight, the elderly couple cherished their memories of better times, their youth, their children, and each other. Then Mazie got sick. Breathing was difficult, but specialists and treatments were expensive. They balanced the choices of paying bills, medicine, food, and doctors. When his beloved Mazie, died, a little bit of Vern died with her.

Struggling to make ends meet and missing companionship, Vern started visiting his local pantry where he not only found people willing to help him find food compatible with his diabetes, but friends who would lend a helping hand and a shoulder to lean on. “Sometimes people just need somebody to talk to. They need somebody to hear their story,” one of the volunteers says.

Sometimes they need more than a helping hand…. They need a helping heart.

Paying it Forward

FACT: 62% of our guests choose between housing and food.

Amy remembers how she and her husband had worked as hard as they could to keep their construction business alive, but in 2009 the economy wasn’t good, and they just couldn’t keep it afloat. Eventually they had to file for bankruptcy. While they tried to pay what bills they could, there were days when Amy would go to the cupboards and find only a few cans of food to feed her family of four.

“We’d try to stretch what we had as much as we could, but it was tough,” she says. “I’d always been the one who was trying to help others through our church or other organizations. I had to swallow my pride and go ask for help myself.”

She found it at her local food pantry, but insisted on volunteering to help pay back what her family used. That volunteer job ended up landing her a paid position. “My family had food and I had employment,” she says. She now holds an executive position at a non-profit meal site and shelter that serves more than 60,000 meals each year. “Now I’m the one who makes sure other people have the food they need,” she says.

A Little Food, Big Hugs

FACT: 62% of our guests choose between medical care and food.

When Joe’s mom got sick several years ago, he and his wife Jane and their two little girls moved back to western Illinois to help take care of her.

Life was good at first. Joe got a great construction job and made good money. Then Joe got in a car accident and suffered lasting mobility problems. He lost his job, and while Jane went to work, the combination of medical bills and reduced income meant the family was often deciding between paying bills and having enough food to eat.

“They come to the pantry each month and get some food to help them make it through,” a pantry volunteer says. “They just need a little help making ends meet. They are so appreciative. Joe always gives us big hugs every time he’s here. That’s all the payment we need.”

Tough Times Conquered

FACT: 1 in 5 children in our community are missing meals not by choice

Mike’s story is a familiar one to food pantry organizers. For all of his adult life, he’d had a good job and a sense of financial security. He had a nice house, and food was certainly the last thing he ever thought he’d be without. Then his employer “downsized,” and Mike’s job was gone.

He kept up for a little while, but little by little the money went away. He tried to find other employment, but times were tough and jobs were scarce. He fell behind on his rent, and bills began to stack up. He and his son began to skip meals, and by the time this proud man reached out for help, they had gone without anything to eat for two days.

Since that time, Mike has found employment again. “It was just a tough little stretch for him and it feels good that we were able to help him through it,” says one of the volunteers.

Soldiering On

FACT: 1 in 8 adults are missing meals not by choice

Connie thought she had done everything right. After high school she joined the Army, worked hard to get her college degree, and married a handsome young officer that was the love of her life. When she learned she was pregnant, it seemed to be the cherry on top of the beautiful cake that was her life.

But when the child was born with a debilitating brain syndrome, she found that the man of her dreams couldn’t handle the day-to-day issues that came with a special-needs child. He left and wasn’t particularly interested in giving her much assistance. A short time later Connie found a lump on her breast and was told she had Stage 3 breast cancer. Medical bills and lost work time mounted.

With a close group of friends and family to support her, she has been able literally to “soldier on.” Among those friends are the folks from her local pantry who have developed a relationship with her and coordinate deliveries of much- needed food for her and her kids. “Connie is still suffering, but she is so thankful for everything we do,” a volunteer says.

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