ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
The Scouts made Blessing Boxes for Empower Boone to provide another way for the organization to share food with the community.

“Empower Boone is in Capron,” said Executive Di-rector Brenda Valadez. “It is a food and resource center that is needed for our neighbors who have little or no income, disability income, or whose income comes from Social Security. We also have many neighbors who have a single parent household, are struggling with injury or illness, have lost their jobs, are facing homelessness, or are moving.

“We serve 200 to 300 families every week. These families are residents of Boone County: Belvidere, Capron, Caledonia, Manchester, Blaine, Poplar Grove, Garden Prairie and anyone in need. We work with the Northern Illinois Food Bank so we also serve visitors from McHenry County and Wisconsin. We do not turn anyone away. I will give them a list of all the food pantries within 25 miles from here so they can do not have to waste time and gas when there are food banks closer to where they live.

“We would not be able to do this without our wonderful volunteers who pack, distribute and assist our visitors. We also work with the Crusader Clinic, SNAP, a nutritionist from University of Illinois Ex-tension. We have a clothing room and personal care items. Last year we helped families of eight house fires on private days – days we were not open for our usual distribution. The Belvidere Post Office does a canned food drive every year (Stamp Out Hunger food drive) and they help us out a lot. They hold it in May.

“We found that during COVID, our neighbors would get food from us and throw a lot of it away because they could not fit it all into their refrigerator and their freezer was too tiny. We asked if we distributed meat on one week and boxes of dry food the next week, if that would be more convenient for them. They loved the idea and we still distribute food that way.

“Stores such as WalMart, Target, etc. will donate their older produce to us because it is still good but they have fresh produce coming in. We get bakery items, dairy, and meat. Over Christmas, we ran out of turkeys and hams, but we had plenty of lobster tails and shrimp. We asked if people would mind having lobster tail instead, and nobody objected or complained. Prices are get-ting too high and people can-not afford some of the costlier food items so they are donated to us.

“We received some funding for shelving just before COVID hit, so we are currently using them for storage until we can use them for fresh produce. We partner with several farms in the area who donate fresh eggs and produce to us. When the produce we have if too old for us to, in good conscience, give to people to eat, we give it to farmers and to Summerfield Zoo to feed their pigs, horses and other animals. The only thing we cannot give them is avocados.

“These partners will often donate a freshly processed pig, cow or chickens to us. Sometimes they will designate if these items are for distribution or are for our volunteers. Our volunteers will eat well on those days.

“We have recently partnered with the Baby Bank and have a room for diapers, baby wipes, baby shampoo and diaper cream. We also partner with My 3 Pups. We give them room to store their pet items and they donate pet food to our visitors. During the isolation of COVID, we would have visitors come in saying, ‘I can’t see my kids. I just lost my wife. All I have left is my dog.’ They were so grateful that we were able to give them pet food so that they could afford to keep their pet.

“Stores will often donate their after-season items to us. We often receive holiday items, after the holiday is over. Packages that have been ripped open also find their way to us. Our volunteers will sort and repackage items to distribute to our visitors. They will also help visitors find the right outfit for a job interview and assist however they can.

“We are repainting and changing our colors. We are going to paint the walls orange and green. Orange to promote Hunger Awareness and Green to represent Growth. We want to help you grow and get back on your feet.

“The Scouts made us six Blessing Boxes to place around the area. We put boxed goods and paper products in them. We do not put canned goods in them because the weather temperature changes can cause canned goods to spoil. Take what you need and leave what you can.

“The Girl Scouts wanted to know what they could do to help and I showed them the Blessing Boxes the Scouts BSA had made and they said, ‘We’ll give you eight.’ Then they painted and decorated their Blessing Boxes.

“We also have a Community Garden people can get fresh lettuce and whatever produce we have growing in season. We have a raspberry bush, a blackberry bush, and chives growing along the building.

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