Organizations combat food insecurity with Thanksgiving meals to-go

By Mackenzie Stephens, Staff Writer

Food insecurity, a decreased access to nutritious, quality foods, is a devastating issue that many families around the country have to live with on a daily basis. Thinking of solutions for this issue on a national scale may seem daunting; however, if smaller actions are taken at the community level, progress can be slowly made to help provide families with the help they need to begin eating a more balanced, nutritious and stable diet.  

The Champaign-Urbana community has proved this with the Thanksgiving meals “to-go” event Champaign Unit Four has put together, alongside other organizations’ efforts to provide families with aid throughout the entire year. Unit Four’s Thanksgiving meals to-go provides food-insecure families with the opportunity to celebrate with a traditional holiday meal. On Nov. 23 and 24, meal boxes including a 12 pound turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, dinner rolls and a pumpkin pie will either be picked up or delivered to families in need that were able to sign up for the event.

Laura Dees, director of Champaign Unit Four school district food services, said that despite the many terrible outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has enabled their team to provide these meals to families in an unprecedented way. 

“COVID-19 circumstances is what allowed us to do it in this format,” Dees said. “Usually during a normal, traditional school year we follow the national lunch program which only allows us to provide meals to students on our actual school days. But because of the COVID-19 extension through summer school service, we are able to serve students meals on non-student attendance days.” 

This event has provided much needed positivity for this holiday season. A silver lining of the pandemic is that Unit Four and other local organizations are able to reach a larger number of families, and students in the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul areas.

After the sign-up deadline passed, 440 households had signed up for the meals. Dees continued to mention how families were eager to take advantage of this opportunity, and that they have raised awareness of Unit four’s other weekly meal services available to students 18 and under. 

DREAAM and Carle’s Healthy Beginnings programs collaborated with Unit 4 on this event to provide their organization’s families with meals as well. DREAAM, or “Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males”, is a Champaign-based community impact organization that has goals to reach, teach and empower boys and young men to develop college and career readiness skills. DREEAM was able to sign-up 45 of their families for the Thanksgiving to-go meals. 

Tracy Dace, founder and executive director of the organization expressed his gratitude for their participation in the event, “We’re very thankful for the Thanksgiving event, and we appreciate the community that is extending a helping hand to families. It is a great opportunity for us to provide food on Thanksgiving, to show some support and embrace our families during this time”. 

In addition to this holiday event, DREAAM has worked with their volunteers to adapt their services to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have converted their normal programs to virtual formats and currently provide their tutoring sessions for students online.

Dace expressed how important it is to support students during online learning, and mentioned that DREAAM is safely opening indoor programming for students who need to come into their organization for extra help with their classes. In order to keep DREAAM running for the families they support, they accept monetary and school supplies donations. They also welcome volunteers who are passionate about giving back to their community. More information about donations and volunteering can be found on their website. 

Carle hospital’s Healthy Beginnings program is another local organization that was able to utilize the Thanksgiving to-go event as a way to provide meals to their families. Throughout the course of the year, Healthy Beginnings provides resources and services to moms and babies in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy who live in poverty. 

Kristen Farney, nurse manager for Carle community health initiatives, stated that Healthy Beginnings is aware of the growing need to combat food security, and provides many services to do-so. Specifically, she emphasized the impact that Carle’s “Mobile Market” has on the community. The Mobile market is a repurposed MTD bus that is used to serve fresh fruits and vegetables to the public, and works on a take what you need- pay what you can basis. 

Farney states how thankful she is for the Champaign-Urbana community in this time of need,

“I continue to be amazed at the amount of people in our community who want to support others and are looking for ways they can volunteer. I’m always amazed and impressed at how many people want to put in time an effort to help others.”

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