BATAVIA – Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Karen McConnaughay traded friendly barbs with one another Monday before storming the aisles of Jewel-Osco in Batavia to help stock two local food pantries with more than $2,000 worth of groceries.
After six minutes had passed, each had filled several carts with more than $1,000 worth of non-perishable foods. Rutherford, who said this year was the first he had participated in the Kane County Farm Bureau's 12th annual Food Check-Out Challenge, beat his opponent by filling carts with $1,174.56 worth of food to benefit the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry.
Rutherford said he purchased a lot of items that he personally likes, as well as some items that he said he's never heard of before. He joked that one of the secrets to his shopping success is having big hands.
"It's all for a good cause," he said. "It adds a bit of levity while trying to call attention to a need we have."
McConnaughay, R-South Elgin, was able to gather $1,033.17 worth of products to donate to the Food For Greater Elgin pantry. She previously participated in the Food Check-Out Challenge in 2005.
"Never in anybody's imagination did we think we'd see the day there would be such a dramatic increase in the need for food," she said.
McConnaughay and Rutherford had five minutes to fill as many carts as they could with non-perishable canned foods, along with foods containing corn, soy and wheat. They got a bonus minute from the farm bureau before helping scan items themselves in their respective check-out lanes.
Linda Dahms, director of the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry, said the more than $1,000 worth of food gathered Monday would provide about two weeks worth of food for the approximately 1,600 people the pantry serves each month.
"I've seen the need grow in the last four years," she said. "It's more than doubled in the last couple years."
Dahms said the food pantry serves at least 30 new families each month. She said the pantry served a record number of families last November, when it served 450 families. Dahms said on average, 380 families use the pantry each month.
The groceries in McConnaughay's cart will help feed the 1,000 families who use the Food For Greater Elgin pantry each month. Sue Ericson, executive director of the pantry, said having that much self-stable food is a huge help.
"It's really important to give back to the community and all the partners involved," Ericson said.
Christopher Strupp said in Kane County, one in nine people are at risk of hunger, and of those at risk, one in five are children.
He said most of the food bank's network partners have noticed as much as a 50 percent increase in people using their facilities in the last couple of years.
"We don't see that decreasing anytime soon," he said.
It was at the Food Check-Out Challenge that the Kane County Farm Bureau announced its Million Meal Challenge – a challenge that sets the goal of donating the equivalent of 1 million meals to local food pantries through hunger relief efforts such as the Food Check-Out Challenge.
Steve Arnold, manager of the Kane County Farm Bureau, said the farm bureau through the years has donated the equivalent of about 700,000 meals through its hunger relief efforts. He said in honor of the farm bureau's centennial, the organization aims to bring that number up to 1 million by the end of the year.
"The bottom line is, our association is all about farms and farms are all about food," he said. "Those are issues we're concerned about in our communities."