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Our Food Focus in Rural Illinois

The Midwest is a culturally rich region, known for its agricultural prosperity. However, pockets of poverty in the rural Midwest are widespread, and central and southern Illinois are no exceptions. Rural communities face unique challenges, and often find themselves marginalized in national discussions about hunger. One of our goals at Central Illinois Foodbank is to spread
awareness and develop creative solutions for food insecurity in this predominantly rural, and at times overlooked region.

Central Illinois Foodbank’s service area encompasses the rural prairieland of the Midwest. Green,
Menard, Macoupin, Schuyler, Cass, and Fayette County are just a few examples of rural counties in which the Foodbank serves, and our staff and volunteers have seen firsthand the effect providing additional resources has on these areas.

“When the Foodbank hosts a mobile distribution, people really turn out,” says Program Manager Wesley Ridgeway, who has worked directly with these rural areas for years. When working in this region, because the agencies and resources are limited, local agencies come together with an outpouring of support for their community when there is an opportunity to do more.

In August, the Foodbank partnered with the Cass County Health Department to host a mobile distribution in Beardstown: a small town located along the Illinois River, known for its history in the meatpacking industry and diverse community. With a Hispanic population of nearly 40%, Beardstown has one of the largest percentages of Spanish-speaking communities across central and southern Illinois (United States Census Bureau, QuickFacts, Beardstown city, Illinois).

Spanish-speaking only families in the Midwest face a language barrier that can make it harder to access healthy and nutritious food. These families rely on local organizations, like the Cass County Health Department, to help bridge the gap and stand as a liaison to work with outside organizations with additional resources. Thanks to the support of the Cass County Health Department, the Foodbank was able to host a distribution that served hundreds of families nearly 10,000 pounds of food.

Menard County, another dominantly rural county in the Foodbank’s service area, is home to the Menard County Food Pantry, who has been feeding their neighbors for over 30
years. The Menard County Food Pantry, who has seen an increase in need, developed a task force to
help their community. After reaching out to Central Illinois Foodbank, we were able to provide them with a new commercial cooler to provide refrigerated items.

“Now we can provide things like milk, cheese or anything that has to be refrigerated…” says Cindy, a Menard County Food Pantry Board Member who is excited to see this cooler provide more food options to their neighbors. In addition to frozen and shelf-stable foods, Menard County Food Pantry is now able to offer fresh produce, dairy, protein, and other household staples for their
community. In areas where grocery stores are scarce and access to nutritious foods are limited, a new cooler for a small-town pantry can make a world of difference.

The rural Midwest is a testament to the strength of community bonds, where residents support each other through thick and thin. In this close-knit environment, the Foodbank is honored to play an important role in fostering this spirit of inclusivity, respect, and accessibility. From mobile distributions to new coolers, our partners will always find a way to show up for their neighbors. The resilience of the rural Midwest community shines brightly, showcasing the power of unity.