GENEVA – After three years at the helm of the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, Pete Schaefer announced Friday he was stepping down to rejoin his family business, Winning Presence LLC in Lake Forest.
The board asked him to continue on while they look for a replacement, and to take on the role of chairman of its Emeritus Board, representing 30 years of board veterans.
Schaefer said the decision to step down was bittersweet.
“I call it the yin and the yang,” Schaefer said. “I have seen so many neighbors in need who have lost a job or are on a fixed income, who are underwater on their mortgage or they don’t earn enough. I have seen so many neighbors step up, so many companies step up to help. So I have seen the best of it and the worst of it.”
Under Schaefer’s tenure, the Northern Illinois Food Bank moved from St. Charles to a $13 million facility on Geneva’s east side in 2011. Called the Community Nutrition and Food Distribution Center, the larger space allows the agency to provide the equivalent of up to 4 million meals a month, officials said.
Schaefer said one in five children in Kane County go hungry, and one in eight to 10 county residents go hungry, making the food bank’s mission ever more important.
“Hunger is all over the place,” Schaefer said. “It’s hidden. It’s right on your block. We have kids relying on the federal breakfast and lunch program, and that’s all they are getting. Teachers know on Monday morning who is hungry and who is first in line.”
Schaefer said hunger in Kane County can be solved.
“There is not a shortage of food or money, it’s the community getting together,” Schaefer said. “All we have to do is ignite the community around this ... to donate and get involved.”
Schaefer, 54, said he has had a long career in food banking, with 20 years as a volunteer, six years on the board of the Greater Chicago Food Bank Depository, eight years on the Northern Illinois Food Bank board and three years as its president and CEO.
“The future of the food bank – it’s rosy,” Schaefer said. “I feel good they are going to grow, but bad that they have to grow.”
In addition to Kane County, the food bank also serves Boone, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kankakee,Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Will and Winnebago counties.
Information about donating or volunteering is available at www.solvehungertoday.org.