Illinois Broadcasters Uniting Against Hunger virtual food drive raises more than $1.5M

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Illinois Broadcasters Uniting Against Hunger virtual food drive has raised more than $1.5 million for the growing number of families in need across the state.

The leaders of the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank were both at a loss for words over the kindness and generosity.

"I have to tell you, I just feel like I don't even have words in my vocabulary to describe what this means," said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

RELATED: Illinois TV, radio stations unite in statewide fundraising drive to combat hunger, food bank shortages amid COVID-19 pandemic

Northern Illinois Food Bank President and CEO Julie Yurko said, "I'm blown away by the generosity of the viewers of Illinois. The TV stations and radio stations, everyone who's come together to help neighbors in need."

Those donations are going to programs and pantries that have seen their numbers double because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We serve 300 food pantries in our area. The need grows, either doubling, all the way up to tripling over the last six weeks. We've also seen a 55% increase in our distribution through our programs," Yurko said.

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Maehr also confirmed a sharp jump in demand at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

"Today we are seeing, across our network, about a 40% increase in the number of people showing up. Those numbers are lagging though, and we haven't gotten this week's numbers yet. And I will tell you I suspect that they're going to continue to rise pretty dramatically," Maehr said.

Area food banks are each pumping out more than 10,000 food boxes a week to keep up with demand. Even though demand will remain high in the coming months and possibly years, the work all of you have already done is being met with grateful heart.

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"The gratitude from our neighbors, the relief from our neighbors, they are in a situation they didn't expect. It was completely unexpected and they -- there's fear, and for us to be able to provide them with a couple of boxes of beautiful fresh produce and proteins and dairy, it just alleviate some of that stress and worry for them," Yurko said.

Maehr hopes that the generosity will continue.

"We need grace, and we need to continue to tap into the compassion that I see everywhere, whether it is neighbors coming out and applauding frontline workers, or it is people finding ways to give to an initiative like this," she said. "We need to continue to tap into that empathy and generosity."

ABC 7 also extends a big thank you to all who participated in the food drive.
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