Northern Illinois Food Bank opened a distribution center in Joliet on Friday, increasing its capacity to provide food to Will and other nearby counties by one million meals a year.
"This has been our dream for a long time to help us serve our neighbors in Will County, as well as Kankakee, Kendall and Grundy counties," Julie Yurko, president and chief executive of Northern Illinois Food Bank, said at a grand opening ceremony.
The food bank has moved into 18,000 square feet of space on South Larkin Avenue a Cub Foods supermarket last occupied.
The space includes supermarket, refrigerators and freezers that the food bank can use for storage of cold foods before shipping to local food pantries, where it is distributed to people in need.
Geneace Williams, chairwoman of the food bank board, said more than $850,000 was raised for the project.
A Joliet native, Williams said she was proud to have the distribution center in her hometown.
"I think that the need in my hometown and the surrounding communities is great," said Williams, who now lives in Burr Ridge and runs a consulting business. "I think we will be doing even more to close the food gap."
Geneva-based Northern Illinois Food Bank provides food for 65.5 million meals a year in 13 counties outside of Cook County, Communications Manager Elizabeth Gartman said.
The Joliet distribution center is the food bank's fourth. It also has distribution centers in Geneva, Rockford and Park City.
Those centers do not provide food directly to individuals but distribute to pantries that serve individuals directly.
"In opening this center, we are hoping we will provide an additional one million meals a year in just this area," Gartman said,.
The food bank will be able to provide more food in Will, Grundy, Kendall and Kankakee counties by being closer to the food pantries, Gartman said. Proximity will reduce drive times and make it possible to transport larger amounts of temperature-sensitive foods, she said.
Gartman said nearly 80,000 people in the four-county area are believed to be "food insecure," meaning they do not have enough food for three meals a day. More than half of those people are children, and the vast majority of the adults are working, she said.
"They have jobs and they are working," she said. "But they're not making enough to make ends meet."
Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., speaking at the opening ceremony, said, "More than 50,000 people in Will County need food assistance. That includes 26,000 children."
Walsh said Will County provided Community Development Block Grant funds available from the federal government to help pay for the South Suburban Center.
Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk said the city officials "were thrilled about two years ago when the food bank came to Joliet and approached us about opening a location within our community."
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, also at the ceremony, compared the new distribution center to other logistics operations being opened in Will County because of access to interstates.
Foster said the amount of food Northern Illinois Food Bank provides "only happens at a low cost if you have industrial scale distribution."
The food bank rents space from Harvest Bible Chapel, which occupies the remainder of the old Cub Foods supermarket near the intersection of McDonough Street.