Illini Partner with Foodbank for Kickoff Event

Two volunteers hold up a sign as they accept donations at the 2011 Food for Families kickoff event.
Two volunteers hold up a sign as they accept donations at the 2011 Food for Families kickoff event.

Sept. 27, 2012

By Maggie Fitzgerald, Illinois Sports Information

The Fighting Illini football team and Eastern Illinois Foodbank invite the Champaign-Urbana community to kick off the foodbank's annual Food for Families drive on September 29 when the Illini "BEET" Penn State. The drive, which was co-founded by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, is the largest food and funds drive of the year for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. This year's Food for Families Kickoff event is taking place at today's game.

"Food for Families is such a wonderful testament to our community's generosity," said Julie Melton, director of marketing and development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. "Few campaigns can say they have lasted a quarter-century and are still going strong. The involvement of the Junior League and the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics have been absolutely critical to this longevity."

During the kickoff event, donations of non-perishable food and cash will be accepted at the game. Beginning at 9 a.m., Foodbank volunteers, including many University of Illinois students, will be sporting brightly colored "BEET Penn State & Fight Hunger" T-shirts outside the southwest and southeast corners of Memorial Stadium along Kirby Avenue. These volunteers will be collecting food and cash donations. Gameday Spirit locations inside and outside of the stadium also will be accepting cash donations for the drive.

Another way to donate is through the Foodbank's Text to Pledge campaign. During the game, fans can text a pledge of any amount by sending the word "meals" and an amount to the number 95495. For example, texting the message "MEALS 25" to 95495 would pledge $25 to the drive.

Unlike many text-to-donate campaigns, the Foodbank's Text to Pledge campaign will not charge the donor's cell phone bill. Instead, the Foodbank will call the donor at a later date to fulfill the pledge over the phone. For more information, Foodbank volunteers at the football game also will be passing out fliers regarding the Text to Pledge campaign.

The Food for Families drive has even more importance than ever this year, as the Foodbank is trying to keep up with the increasing demand for food and wants the 26th year of the drive to be its best year to date. The recent economic downturn has had a large impact on the Foodbank and its work. More families than ever are turning to the Foodbank for help, while fewer people are making donations. The increasingly high demand for food in eastern Illinois has given the Food for Families drive additional significance this year.

In eastern Illinois, one in four children struggles with hunger. If the Foodbank gave away a free meal at Memorial Stadium to everyone in eastern Illinois who struggles with hunger, every seat would be filled and an additional 18,330 people would have to sit on the field, because 79,000 people in eastern Illinois struggle with food insecurity. This year's goal for the food and fund drive is 400,000 meals - enough to fill a sold-out Memorial Stadium six-and-a-half times.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank provides food to over 220 agencies and programs that work to feed the hungry across a 14-county area. Each year, these agencies serve more than 100,000 different people, one-third of whom are children. The Foodbank already makes a large impact on the eastern Illinois community and the Food for Families drive has the potential to make an even bigger impact on those who suffer from hunger in the area.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank recognizes the effort that others in the community are making towards helping fight hunger in the state.

"We are so grateful to our friends at the DIA and Gameday Spirit for making our annual Food for Families Kickoff event such an annual success," Melton said.

To be a part of the action, donate food or cash at the Illinois-Penn State game. For more information on the Eastern Illinois Foodbank or to make a donation online, visit the organization's website or like Eastern Illinois Foodbank on Facebook.