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Grant funds help provide food during pandemic
Tammy Reiher

Grant funds help provide food during pandemic

WILL COUNTY – Each Tuesday Debra Upshaw and her Sisters in the National Hookup of Black Women Joliet chapter carry boxes of frozen, fresh and shelf stable food to feed people struggling during the current pandemic.

Will County Executive Denise Winfrey, also a NHBW Sister, said, “It is a privilege to fill a need in someone’s life. It is a special privilege to put food on a table.”

NHBW is one-fourth of Labor of Love Cooperative, Will County’s first food cooperative formed to receive Covid Cares Community Development Block Grant funds.

Other members of the new group are Second Baptist Church, Forest Park Community Center and the Harvey Brooks Foundation.

Kathy Pecora, program manager and coordinator of the county’s We Will Grow School and Community Garden program, said the county received a $995,000 CDBG grant. There were 25 applications for program funding, asking for more than a combined $5.2 million. Eighteen groups received funding.   

Pecora said she had to tell organizations “we can’t give you all the money you asked for.” The members of the Labor of Love Cooperative alone had asked for a combined $607,000.

But at the same time, they wanted to get food to as many people through as many organizations as possible. “We wanted everyone to stay open,” she said, so they started looking for some “innovative ideas.”

Martha Sojka, Community Development Administrator, suggested forming a food cooperative so the groups can share food, record keeping and more. She had seen it work elsewhere.

Pecora said, “The whole idea is working as a team.”

Upshaw stepped up to the plate so NHBW became the lead agency for the cooperative. Part of the role is maintaining all the records for the cooperative.

“Debra is working like crazy,” Pecora said. “She’s able to take in food and get it out quickly. Her distributions have been safe (from Covid).”

“It’s what God called me to do,” said Upshaw, when her hard work was mentioned.

Each week the Sisters distribute food to about 200 families. There are about 15-20 homebound people in addition to those who are unemployed or are the working poor. One vehicle may represent several families. Sometimes churches refer families to the food distribution.

Like other groups involved with the program, NHBW committed to two food distributions a month, but with all of the food donations as well as the food purchased by the cooperative, it has changed to weekly.

“We’ve been blessed,” Upshaw said. “Really blessed.”

For more information, go to the National Hookup of Black Women website.  Go to the We Will Grow Garden Program Facebook page for information about the community gardens.

Pecora added, “If you or someone you know are hungry and need food please go to www.willcountyillinois.FindFood.

“Not only are all of the pantries that received grant funding from us on there, but also area micro-pantries and mobile pantries.”

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