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Connected for 45: Celebrating Communities, Fighting Hunger.

This year, we are excited to celebrate a momentous milestone -- 45 years of harnessing the power of communities to end hunger. We have come a long way since our inception, and many of you have witnessed firsthand the importance of our work. We will spend this year honoring our roots while looking ahead to what our legacy holds for the future. We invite you to join us as we reflect on our incredible journey and the impact we have had, with your help, to fight for a hunger-free future.

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1978/1979
2003
2005
2008
2009
2010
2014
2015
2016
2018
2019
2020
2022
2023
2024

1978/1979

Established

Beginning as a collaboration between the Community of Congregations & a local girl scout troop, the original founders of Beyond Hunger started off providing holiday food baskets to those in need. Our first director, Pat Funke, would recruit a different landlord each year to provide space September-December to store non-perishables and toys. They started with serving 75 families, which quickly grew to 400 by the time Pat Funke left.

After a couple years, and seeing an increase in the community’s need for consistent groceries, our founders began receiving USDA commodities as a Greater Chicago Food Depository Member Agency. Pat Koko stepped in as Executive Director for 17 years, followed by Kathy Russell and Anne Wakely, then Kathy and Michele Zurakowski. Michele is now the CEO of Beyond Hunger.

Pictured below: Pat Koko packing boxes, a director of the program from 1984-2001.

Go Beyond Hunger

2003

Established


By 2003, the pantry was located in a storefront on Harvey and South Boulevard with Karin Petrini and Leah Beckwith at the helm. Paying $600/month for storefront space, the pantry hours were on Saturdays, though space was limited. Most of the food distributed were nonperishables from the Greater Chicago Food Depository as well as food drives with the US Postal Workers and the Girl Scouts.

Pantry Established

2005

Moving In

Now a food pantry (called Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry), the team moved into the First United Church, making the church one of our longest partnerships. As members of First United, Karin and Leah met with Reverend Mark Ramsey who gladly opened up space in the basement, providing a greater capacity to serve more residents. Here, they incorporated seasonal food items.

During this year the pantry served 2,522 families.

Moving In

2008

Financial Recession

Many were hit hard during the financial recession of 2008, and the demand for pantry services skyrocketed.

Working with an annual budget of $71,000 the pantry team at the time hired its first 2 staff members at 15 hr/week.

Financial Recession

2009

Social Services


We hired our first Benefits Coordinator through the AmeriCorps Program, who worked to connect those we serve with federal benefits such as SNAP.

Social Services

2010

New Service Model

OPRF Food Pantry became a standalone 501(c)3 nonprofit and implemented a new service model that invited clients to ‘shop’ for food.

Our team also began offering Nutrition Education services in response to a community desire to gain more knowledge about food and health.

We joined the Alliance to End Hunger, an organization that unites diverse sectors to advocate for anti-hunger issues at the state and national level.

New Service Model

2014

Summer Meals


We began our Summer Meals for Kids program in collaboration with the YMCA. We now partner with the Oak Park Education Foundation through BASE CAMP and with the Oak Park River Forest High School through their summer school programs.

Summer Meals

2015

Expanding Our Impact

We offered our first Cooking Classes through our Nutrition and Health Education Programs, teaching our clients important skills like knife and safety techniques, food safety, and healthy recipes.

We also implemented our Surplus Project in collaboration with RUSH Oak Park Hospital, repackaging surplus prepared foods into individual meals for those in need.

Expanding Our Impact

2016

Beyond the Basement

Now serving 15,494 families, our team began addressing hunger through programs that reached beyond our physical space.

We began our Home Delivery program servicing homebound older adults, expanded our cooking classes based on our own curricula and expanded social services.

Beyond the Basement

2018

Pledge to Become a Hunger-Free Community

Now operating with a $2.5 million annual budget, our team made an official pledge to our current mission statement: Harnessing the power of communities to end hunger.

Home Delivery served 100 households, our Summer Meals Program provided 11,500 meals & snacks to kids & teens, and 967 health screenings were provided by volunteer nurses.

Hunger-Free Community

2019

A New Name: Beyond Hunger


A new name and logo marked a historic change for our agency in 2019. The name Beyond Hunger reflects the steadfast dedication and collaborative spirit of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, while more accurately expressing our mission to end hunger in all 13 ZIP codes we serve.

A New Name: Beyond Hunger

2020

Pandemic-Related Changes

Everyone was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and hunger-related needs significantly increased along with a demand for our programming. We pivoted our service model to meet specific needs for all:

Instead of our in-person community market, we offered a drive-thru pantry system where folks never had to leave their car to receive groceries.

We began our Despensa program, a referral-only program for recently immigrated families.

Home Delivery services tripled, servicing 350+ households. We expanded our Home Delivery team to our Chicago Office thanks to the generosity of New Moms, allowing us to provide more healthy options for participants in the program.

Pandemic-Related Changes

2022

Building Equitable Food Systems in Collaboration with Community

Beyond Hunger committed to the Good Food Purchasing Pledge.

We began our Health Ambassadors program.

We expanded our Social Services, unlocking $200k in SNAP benefits for area families in FY2022.

Building Equitable Food Systems in Collaboration with Community

2023

A Significant Year

During FY2023 we operated on a $4.5 million annual budget with a full-time staff of 20 people. We served 52,000+ individuals (the most households we have ever seen), rescued and redistributed 130 tons of food, and provided each household with 18.2 pounds of fresh produce at each visit.

Home Delivery served 4500 individuals, and our Health Ambassadors reached 1100+ individuals through community engagement. Our volunteers donated the equivalent of 11 full-time staff.

Go Beyond Hunger Volunteers Packing Food

2024

Today

This year we are excited to celebrate 45 years of feeding our communities with hunger-relief programs that extend far beyond the shelves of our pantry.

We have never lost sight of the generosity and gratitude that our founders carried with them, and have made it our mission to embed this philosophy into all of our initiatives. We are certain that the next 45 years and beyond will only continue to better serve our community and fight to end hunger.

Beyond Hunger 45 Years

Honoring Our Roots, Embracing Our Legacy

volunteer

In 1987 a small group of passionate women saw a need in their community and chose to take action. Starting as a collaboration between the Community of Congregations and a local girl scout troop, the original founders of Beyond Hunger started off providing holiday food baskets to those in need.

After a couple years, and seeing an increase in the community's needs for consistent groceries, our founders began receiving USDA commodities as a Greater Chicago Food Depository Member Agency.

Community in Action

Community in action header image

We have come a long way in our 45 years, and many of you have been alongside us for much of that time. This year, we are not just celebrating this milestone, but honoring the individuals and organizations that make this work possible. Your presence, dedication, and shared vision of our mission have shaped the heart of who we are. We are always stronger when we are connected.

 

Uplifting Connections

cute staff pic

Behind every success story is a team of dedicated individuals committed to making a difference. Our staff, one of the backbones of our organization, works everyday to ensure that each program uplifts, educates, and nurtures our community. We believe the individuals we serve are not just recipients of our programming: their knowledge and input are what make our services unique and sustainable.

The Next 45 and Beyond

Home delivery picture

We have never lost sight of the gratitude and generosity that our founders carried with them, and have made it our mission to embed this philosophy into all of our initiatives. We are certain that the next 45 years and beyond will only continue to better serve our community and fight to end hunger.

Stay tuned for more events and updates as we celebrate our 45th anniversary!