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Churches live out their mission helping Northern Illinois Food Bank fulfill its goal to end hunger

GENEVA – For Kevin Beyer, when volunteers from his church regularly help out at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, it is the embodiment of his faith. 

“We have a social justice program in the church,” said Beyer, 47, who is the volunteer leader for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva. “It’s one of our deepest principles. So we have a monthly day of service. We go to Mutual Ground; we provide meals for Lazarus house – various activities like that.”

The food bank feeds 71,000 people each week throughout its 13-county service area, distributing more than 57 million meals last year, food bank spokesman Erik Jacobsen said. One in seven people in northern Illinois rely on the food bank’s network of community food pantries and feeding programs, he said.

Beyer said helping the food bank facilitate its mission is important to the church.

“We make sure we are providing for people who can’t necessarily provide for themselves,” Beyer said.

Food bank officials are acknowledging the role faith plays for volunteers by hosting Full on Faith Week, which takes place this week through Saturday. Volunteer groups from various churches will be working at the food pantry.

“It’s happening in all our locations – in Geneva, in Lake County and in Rockford,” Jacobsen said. “With Full on Faith Week, we are looking to engage the faith community in our mission of solving hunger.”

Two-thirds of the food pantries and soup kitchens that the food bank supports are operated by faith-based organizations, Jacobsen said, and promoting highlights the food bank’s cause.

“A number of other church groups are not as familiar with the food bank and what we do,” Jacobsen said. “So the purpose of this week is to try to get them involved and get to be volunteers with our organization, engaging groups that come on a regular basis.”

Other ways for churches to get involved is to host a food drive or a special offering for the food bank, Jacobsen said, or invite a food bank speaker to talk to their congregations.

To sign up a volunteer group or to request a speaker, call Shannon Thompson at 630-443-6910, ext. 125.

Among the churches participating in Full on Faith Week are Seventh Day Adventist in North Aurora, Fox Valley Presbyterian and First Baptist, both from Geneva, and Holy Cross in Batavia, Jacobsen said.

The Unitarian church’s volunteers are not on the schedule this week because they’ve already served their day earlier this month, Beyer said. The church’s service at the food bank is so popular it became its own program, going from three to four times a year to one day a month all year, Beyer said. 

The church’s service at the food bank began in 2008 through Geneva resident Jean Pierce, who served as head of the Social Justice Team, said Beyer’s wife, Lisa Gades, 42. 

“I think a lot of people are drawn to Unitarian Universalism because part of our church’s covenant, written back in the 1800s, that says we are “desirous of promoting practical goodness,” Gades said. 

Pierce said the church follows seven principles.

“The first one is everyone is worthwhile and important, and the last one is that we are all interconnected,” Pierce said. “Basically, this is a way to live out our faith in the community.”

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