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Social service providers join forces to help vulnerable DeKalb families

DeKALB – With the end of the school year approaching, two dozen social service agencies teamed up Tuesday with the Northern Illinois Food Bank to help some of DeKalb’s most vulnerable families.

About 60 percent of DeKalb School District 428 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches through the federal government’s National School Lunch Program.

When school’s out, many of those students don’t always know where they will get their next meal. In DeKalb County, about 14,360 people were considered food-insecure in 2014.

A Northern Illinois Food Bank mobile food pantry was on-site Tuesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church to help families stock up on basic supplies before the end of the school year and Memorial Day. Inside the church, families got information about an array of programs from local social service organizations such as Community Coordinated Child Care, Red Cross, Safe Passage and Kishwaukee College, among others.

Toney Wiggins, 48, of DeKalb said the free food from the mobile food pantry makes a big difference for his family of five.

“It helps out a lot,” said Wiggins, who recently had surgery and gets disability benefits. “It brings food to the table – I know my kids can eat.”

William Gallon, 50, of DeKalb heard about the event through church. Gallon, who receives disability benefits from the government, said his family of six benefits from events such as the one Tuesday.

“It would be worse if we didn’t have programs like this,” he said.

A single unexpected bill can put some families in the position of choosing between paying for medication and food or choosing between housing and food. In those cases, food often is cut out of the family budget, said Noel Piatek of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Volunteers such as 14-year-old DeKalb High School student Ronnie Hobson were eager to lend a hand.

“I just like to help out,” said Hobson, who is part of the Youth Service Bureau’s VolunTEEN program. “It feels good.”

Hobson was joined by members of the DeKalb Police Department, DeKalb Fire Department, Northern Illinois Police Department and many other community volunteers. DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks broke down empty food boxes while DeKalb School District Superintendent Doug Moeller directed traffic at the church.

The event was organized by the DeKalb County Permanency Action Team. Team member and organizer Dariana Mahaffey said the program’s goal was to help keep families intact by providing them with the resources they need to get by and making sure they know what services are available and how to get them.

“We wanted to break down the barriers and show them where to get the help they need,” she said.

The event was designed as a summer kick-off party with pizza, activities and giveaways.

The mobile food pantry was supported by a $1,200 grant through Youth Engaged in Philanthropy.

“The youth felt that this food truck would have a direct impact on food-insecure children and families here in their county,” Becky Zantout, the grants and community initiatives manager at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, said in a statement.

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