DeKALB – Sheryl Nakonechny was troubled by what was happening in her school district.
The recent retiree and DeKalb resident who spent the last 30 years teaching at Clinton Rosette Middle School noticed that half the students in DeKalb District 428 belonged to a reduced-price or free lunch program.
So Nakonechny took action. She garnered the support of school officials, the Northern Illinois Food Bank and local donors to open the Barb Food Mart at Huntley Middle School, which provides free food on a weekly basis to families with children in DeKalb schools.
"They shop and take what they need for this week, and they can come every week," Nakonechny said.
In full operation since June 20, the food mart is supplied with and funded by food and grants through the Northern Illinois Food Bank and opens its doors to families every Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m.
"Sheryl had a need, and so she came us and said, 'What can we do to help this population?' " food bank Director of Communications Donna Lake said.
Earlier this year, the regional food bank got to work putting together grant requests while Nakonechny asked the District 428 school board for space for the county's first school-based food pantry. Such a model wasn't a first for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which opened its first school pantry in Belvidere last year.
ConAgra, Kishwaukee Community Hospital, The Douglas and Lynn Roberts Family Foundation and DeKalb Township fulfilled grant requests though the food bank to get the Barb Food Mart off the ground.
"The plan is that the food bank will raise the funds for approximately a year, and then Barb Food Mart will become independent of the Food Bank," said Hester Bury, the NIFB's Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving. "They'll be able to get food from us, but they will be independent in terms of their organization and their fund raising."
The group found space for the project in an old classroom that had been used for storage since Huntley Middle School was established in the old DeKalb High School building.
"They came to the board about space availability, and we were fortunate enough that we had this area, and our janitorial staff had to do a lot of work, but it turned out great," District 428 school board President Tom Matya said. "We're very proud of it."
Nakonechny already is overjoyed at the community's response. More than 200 families have registered and about 75 walk the aisles each week.
In order to register, families must bring some proof of enrollment to any Thursday session.
Barb Food Mart offers fresh produce from community gardens, frozen foods, cold foods, and all manner of canned, boxed and jarred foods and ingredients. Unlike other pantries, there are no limits here, and Nakonechny encourages kids to get in on the action.
"We make it very kid-friendly," Nakonechny said. "Our unofficial motto is 'no lima beans.' "
• To volunteer
• To donate
Online: visit solvehungertoday.org
By mail: Northern Illinois Food Bank
273 Dearborn Court, Geneva, IL 60134
By phone: 630-443-6910