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‘April Food Day’ in Southland brings flood of donations

Yvonne Orr Chief Professional Officer for United Way stacks donated food part United Way's April Food Day Lincoln Mall MattesIllinois

Yvonne Orr, Chief Professional Officer for United Way, stacks donated food part of United Way's April Food Day at Lincoln Mall in Matteson, Illinois, Thursday, April 18, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 21, 2013 6:15AM



The rains Thursday flooded streets in the Southland, but they did not impede the spirit of giving during United Way’s “April Food Day.”

In a communitywide effort with South-Southwest Suburban United Way and the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, a load of food was collected, as an outpouring of donations were delivered to Lincoln Mall in Matteson — all of which will fill the shelves at Respond Now in Chicago Heights.

Throughout the day, representatives from 19 hotels in 11 south suburbs skirted around closed streets through a driving rain and trucked in 3,745 pounds of food — almost two tons — collected from their guests, staff and the public during the past month.

Spring may be the season for these April showers but it also is a time when food supplies are low at local pantries, officials said.

“I am so proud of Chicago Southland for braving the weather. The community really turned out and came together,” said Johanns Williams, director of franchise services for LaQuinta Inns and Suites, who helped coordinate the food drive. “I see a lot of food issues in the Southland. Anything we can do to raise awareness is good. No one should go hungry.”

While the main push was from the hotel industry in the south suburbs, the first April Food Day drew the attention of other businesses and individuals who stopped by with their own donations, ranging from handfuls to boxfuls, said Yvonne Orr, of South-Southwest Suburban United Way.

After a group of mall walkers finished their exercise inside Lincoln Mall, about 30 of them went shopping at Walmart, each returning with a bag of food for the cause, she said.

The student council at Marya Yates Elementary School in Matteson contributed, and one man from Homewood, Jim Bova, filled a table with his own large donation, she said.

Kim McNamara, Best Western’s area director of sales, delivered food from Best Western in Oak Forest and Wingate in Tinley Park.

“This is really important for the entire community. When the CVB brought it up, we jumped on board. It’s a great project to be involved in,” she said.

“I have a teenaged son and it made a difference to him to see how people reach out and help their community. He learned that one person can make a difference,” said McNamara, of Oak Lawn.

Even with all the flooding, people found a way to get there.

“That’s just phenomenal,” she said.

While volunteers carried bags and boxes of food from vehicles and stacked it inside — creating a wall of food — the jazz band from Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Harvey provided entertainment.

“It’s a celebration. We are rallying people behind a cause,” said Andrew Steele, major gifts officer for South-Southwest Suburban United Way.

One food pantry was chosen as the recipient of the food drive because “we wanted to have a large impact in one location,” Steele said. “We wanted to target an area of greatest need.”

“This will get us through the summer and provide people with a well-rounded bag of food,” Respond Now supervisor Carl Wolf said as he boxed up a great variety of food products.

This food drive was a first for United Way, which was holding similar April Food Days in Cook, Will, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties on this rainy day.

Steele said he already was planning next year’s event.

“We will build from this base. Next year, if we can double the amount of food, we can spread it to more pantries where the need is greatest,” he said.



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