One Champaign family is doing its part to ensure Salt and Light doesn't run out of food again – at least for three weeks this year.
Paul Stancil and Christine Hurt, both University of Illinois law professors, have agreed to sponsor three weeks worth of food at the pantry, one for each of their children.
It's part of a new fund-raising push by Salt and Light, which has seen its traffic almost double since last summer. The pantry ran out of food on May 19 after serving more than 400 families.
It's asking churches, organizations, businesses or individuals to sponsor a week's worth of food for the Wednesday food distribution. The cost has risen 50 percent in the last year, to $1,500, and the goal is to cover 50 weeks, or $75,000.
So far, a half-dozen weeks have been sponsored, said Executive Director Nathan Montgomery.
Stancil and Hurt first got involved with Salt and Light last fall, after seeing the ministry on ABC's "Extreme Makeover" show. They volunteered with their three children – ages 10, 8, and 2 – during the Christmas gift giveaway and at the Wednesday food pantry.
This spring, the children hosted a lemonade stand and raised $255 for Salt and Light.
Given the pantry's recent challenges, Stancil and Hurt decided to become food sponsors, in part because the kids could be involved.
"One of the things we love about Salt and Light is it's more than just a check-writing opportunity, in terms of being able to volunteer and be invested and be face-to-face with the people who are in need," Stancil said. "It's easy to give money and not be engaged with the problem you're trying to solve."
He's surprised by how his children have embraced the effort. The 8-year-old asks, "When can I go back?"
"They like the fact that it's real. They can contribute in some meaningful way, even if it's just sorting clothes in a bin," he said. "It's tough to find a place they can do that and not feel like they're underfoot."
That's the idea of the sponsorship drive, to encourage donors to be part of the distribution "so they can see firsthand the difference that's being made with their contribution," Montgomery said.
On Tuesday, Salt and Light will also launch a "Canless Food Drive," collecting money at local businesses with paint-sized collection cans. Food pantries can buy $100 worth of food for $10 through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, so a donated dollar goes a lot farther than a can of food, said Ministry Assistant Melany Jackson, who came up with the idea. A trial run at a campus restaurant last December netted $200, and Salt and Light decided to try it on a larger scale this summer, she said.
Graphic designer Jill Kirby donated her services, designing labels that look like a giant Campbell's soup can with "Salt and Light" in place of the company name. Silver Machine of Champaign made the coin slots for the top of the cans.
The cans will be placed at 215 local businesses throughout June.
Besides a United Way grant for a financial literacy program, Salt and Light's relatively modest $245,000 budget is funded entirely by donations. To stabilize its future, the ministry is trying to build up monthly sponsors and created an endowment this year to accommodate possible donation opportunities.
"It's not fun, not being able to help everybody that comes in the door," Montgomery said.