Loaves & Fishes—Celebrating 30 years of service

View more

Charles McLimans, CEO of Loaves and Fishes

Charles McLimans, CEO of Loaves and Fishes

Some may not have noticed Loaves & Fishes slight name change—but to President and CEO Charles McLimans, it’s that one new word that makes all the difference in how the nonprofit will continue to serve Naperville and DuPage County.

Celebrating its 30th year in 2014, “Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry” officially became “Loaves & Fishes Community Services” to better describe what it’s been doing for the past few years and also aid future fundraising.

“Our vision is to end hunger, but we do so much more than just give out food,” McLimans said. “The name change helps our anti-poverty organization be so much more multi-faceted. We’re empowering people to be self-sufficient.”

Through its partnerships with local organizations, Loaves & Fishes’ Pathways to Empowerment program is doing just that—empowering the community. Last year, 2,999 people participated in the program and received services from food stamp assistance and income tax assistance, to job search assistance, computer classes and more.

There’s more to empowering people than just providing classroom-style instruction. “The organization’s new client engagement model is training volunteers and engaging our clients in deeper and more meaningful ways,” McLimans said.

“We have empowerment specialists who engage people in conversation,” McLimans said. “They ask questions to get to the root causes of poverty and work with them in collaboration.”

The nonprofit—which began in the basement of St. Raphael Catholic Church in 1984—is continuing to grow. In its last year ending June 2014, statistics revealed that 19,552 individuals received grocery services and nearly 3.5 million pounds of groceries were provided to families.

Volunteer-fueled Loaves & Fishes is keeping tabs on its customer demographics in an effort to better serve the needs of its current community. With about half of its population under the age of 18, the focus is largely on families with children. About 25 percent of the families Loaves & Fishes serves are headed by females, according to its most recent fact sheet.

“The typical family of four saves $588 dollars per month if they are getting groceries here every two weeks,” McLimans said. “This has a broader impact on our regional macro economy, as it helps people to stay solvent and not fall into another level of poverty. They can pay the bills, keep their lights on, buy additional food, afford their rent.”

The nonprofit is currently partnering with 17 area grocery stores for its food recovery system, an effort to cut down on food waste and provide fresh dairy, fruits, vegetables and other perishables for families.

“We invested in refrigerated trucks and are recovering a huge amount of fresh product,” McLimans said. “We source all of these products, then we’re able to bring back and put it into the hands of families in about 24 hours.”

For Director of Community Engagement Jody Bender, the goal is to continue to reach needy families through increased awareness of the programs. Even after 30 years, Bender said some of the families with the greatest need are unaware the nonprofit exists in their community. It’s her job to find those families and educate them on how Loaves & Fishes can help.

“We’re making a difference by not just giving them a band-aid, but instead helping to solve problems that cause these families to be food insecure,” Bender said. “The number of people who need our services has risen sharply, but so has our response.”

As its 30-year celebration comes to a close, there’s no sign of slowing down for Loaves & Fishes. The organization is currently promoting its first comprehensive public fundraising campaign in an effort to raise $6 million by the end of 2015 to keep the facility going strong.

“This campaign will help fund all of our current strategic initiatives and help us invest in more programs,” McLimans said. “It will allow us to get to planning for the future.”