GENEVA – The number stuck in Patrick Bily’s mind: 75 million.
That’s the number of meals the Northern Illinois Food Bank aims to annually distribute by the year 2020.
Food bank personnel shared that goal with more than 200 volunteers who gathered at the organization’s West Suburban Center in Geneva on Saturday morning to kickoff the annual holiday meal box program.
Bily recalled the 75 million goal as he prepped cardboard boxes for the assembly line, which would fill the empty boxes with such ingredients as stuffing mix, gravy, vegetables and fruit. That goal – along with the other facts and figures about hunger shared during the orientation – got to him, he said.
Noting he works for Bimbo Bakeries USA and that most of the day’s other volunteers also represented food manufacturers, Bily said it is “our responsibility to do something about that.”
The boxes assembled Saturday will be paired with a frozen turkey, providing everything needed to make a holiday meal for up to eight people.
Donna Lake, the food bank’s communications director, said the meal boxes not only help alleviate stress for those with financial struggles but they also give neighbors in need the same opportunity to prepare a holiday meal.
“So many memories are made around the table,” she said.
Music – including James Brown’s “I Feel Good” – provided a continuous, upbeat soundtrack for the volunteers as they packed a seemingly never-ending stream of boxes.
Dressed as the food bank’s turkey mascot, volunteer-turned-intern Alejandra Roman, 23, visited each line, pausing for pictures.
“It is fun,” the Aurora resident said. “I really do like it.”
The volunteers, meanwhile, worked briskly, almost as if they were in some sort of race. Tiffany Rotondo, who participated with the Jel Sert Company of West Chicago, said her group wanted complete the most pallets.
“I’m always up for a challenge,” she said.
Ultimately, the food bank plans to distribute about 36,000 holiday meal boxes, which will benefit families in 13 counties across northern Illinois.
Bily recognized the task would take longer than a Saturday morning.
But, he said, “We want to put a big dent in it.”
The holiday meal box program is made possible through individual and corporate donors. Visit www.SolveHungerToday.org or call 630-443-6910 to donate.