CHAMPAIGN — Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Champaign and Urbana school districts have continued to provide meals for students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches.
Now, local nonprofits are joining together to add to that effort by providing groceries for families in need who have children in the Champaign and Urbana school districts.
The United Way of Champaign County and the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois’ Champaign County COVID-19 Relief Fund is contributing $65,000 toward the effort, and two churches have already contributed an additional $25,000 toward the $250,000 goal.
Called CU-BetterTogether, organizers hope to provide groceries to more than 1,500 families a week for the next 12 to 16 weeks.
“CU-BetterTogether highlights the care and compassion of our community. School leaders reached out, and the community responded,” said Champaign Superintendent Susan Zola. “The reality is that food insecurity has grown for our students and families. In the midst of a difficult time, the best of Champaign-Urbana is shining through. We are grateful to our community leaders and organizations for their generous support of students and families.”
The groceries will be distributed through the two school districts’ existing distribution systems, and the two districts will provide more information on their websites about when and where to pick food up.
“It’s a big effort with a lot of resources going into it,” said Joan Dixon, the CEO of the local Community Foundation.
CU-BetterTogether is a collaborative effort between United Way, the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, the C-U Schools Foundation, the Stephens Family YMCA, and over 25 other organizations and faith communities.
Sue Grey, the CEO of the local United Way, said the effort came together in about a week.
“We had the opportunity to sit down with a group of people last Friday, in particular the Champaign and Urbana school districts, and there was a real concern about feeding the families of our students,” she said.
Jeff Scott, the CEO of the Stephens Family YMCA, helped lead the group.
“Yesterday, we had 45 to 50 people on Zoom meetings. We had 30 this morning,” he said Wednesday. “Eighty or so are involved in some way, shape or form, representing churches, different organizations like the NAACP, the city of Champaign. All these different people saying, ‘We’re going to be all in.’”
They will use the resources of the food pantries at Vineyard and Stone Creek churches in Urbana, and both churches are providing volunteer opportunities at CUVolunteer.org.
Stone Creek’s food pantry has already seen an increase in families served, lead Pastor Ricky Spindler said.
“Before all this began, we were serving about 100 families every two weeks, and now we’re serving almost 500 families per week,” he said.
He said it made sense for the church to step up.
“When other businesses or organizations have to shut down or do less, the church has been called on to do more,” Spindler said.