Food For All

Volunteers fuel ongoing drives and donations

1920x1080 Image

Teresa Haley of Springfield heads not only the NAACP's Springfield branch but also the state chapter. This past Saturday, July 18, she joined more than a dozen others to hand out boxes of produce, hand sanitizer and masks. "We are blessing our community," Haley said under the hot sun from behind a mask adorned with sparkly blue letters spelling out "NAACP."

Items were purchased with the help of a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln. During the pandemic, the foundation has focused on garnering and providing donations aimed at relief for those impacted by COVID-19.

According to Feeding America, a nonprofit that represents a nationwide network of food banks, the annual rate of food insecurity in the U.S. could go up as much as 16.7% this year, when compared to 2018. The pandemic is having a worse impact on communities of color in terms of infection and death rates. As Feeding America points out, Black people also face higher rates of food insecurity due to structural disparities. In 2018, 21.2% of Black households were food insecure compared to 11.1% overall, according to analysis the organization published this May. Haley said NAACP is interested in providing support for all, but it also recognizes there are increased needs within the Black community.

Haley said a bulk of the grant has been used on groceries for families, and another chunk has been used on household essentials, such as paper towels and toilet paper. Haley won the first ever "Activist of the Year" honor during the national NAACP Image Awards earlier this year. She said subsequently, BET and Procter and Gamble reached out to assist her efforts. As a result, she went to Chicago two weekends in a row and picked up 30 50-gallon barrels of hand sanitizer which later got broken up into smaller bottles. Families who came through for food were also given the sanitizer and masks. "We just want people to stay safe. We want them to remember not to touch your face, to wear your mask when you're out in public. We're trying to cut down and kill this COVID virus because it's taking out so many people in our community," said Haley.

Cars pulled up outside Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Drive. One man rolled up with a baby stroller to load up. And teens did much of the heavy lifting – boxes full of produce such as carrots, potatoes and cucumbers from Cusumano and Sons Inc. in Mt. Vernon. NAACP interns Dorian Henry and Nakiah Smith were among them. "I definitely wanted to do more with the Black community and I thought this would be a great opportunity," said Smith, who is attending Lincoln Land Community College. Henry said he was also inspired to get more involved, in part due to the police killing of George Floyd. "I was already wanting to do it," said Henry. "That just sparked a fire to work even harder." Both interns began in June. Henry, who's 19 years old, said while his generation is getting blamed for not taking the pandemic seriously, his friends do. "A lot of the young people I'm around try to wear their mask as often as possible and socially distance."

Earlier in the month, area Muslims helped give out food from the same location along with NAACP. The Zakat Foundation of America had provided 1,400 boxes of food. It's a Chicago-based charity organization named after a pillar of Islam that requires the privileged faithful to share their wealth with those who have less. Mona Ahsan is a volunteer attorney for NAACP and member of the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield. She handed out flyers about the census and brought some teens along to help the most recent effort, including her son. "It's part of being a human being and part of being part of a community that you have to take care of everyone," she said.