|Feeding the Illinois Hungry
Farmers and Central Illinois Foodbank partner for hunger relief
By Kaleigh Friend
Warehouse staff Phillip Walker helps an agency load in its food order.
Pork producer Phil Borgic shows Kaleigh Friend how the stalls work within the hog shed.
Volunteers Sylvia Miller, Karen Shaub, and John Smith help repackage donated chocolates for distribution.
The ground trembles with the ignition of box truck engines. Forklifts beep as they whizz by, moving pallets of food onto trucks. It is morning at the Foodbank and food is moving out as trucks roll in.
A walk through the warehouse at Central Illinois Foodbank may surprise you as you pass through aisles of towering pallets. Nearly as astounding as the sheer volume of food held at the Foodbank is the reality that the equivalent of the entire storage of the warehouse, 700,000 pounds, will have rotated out to the Foodbank’s 21-county service area in a month’s time. Because of the very limited warehouse space in comparison to the large volume of food, the products must move quickly.
Established in 1982 by a coalition of churches, Central Illinois Foodbank now operates out of a 22,000 square foot warehouse in Springfield, distributing over eight million pounds of food annually to about 150 agencies in central Illinois. The Foodbank is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization.
As the economy continues to lag, the number of people seeking aid has increased. The Foodbank has noticed an increase of 40 percent on average over the past two years. With this greater need comes an increased demand for food. That’s where donations come to the rescue.
The Pork Power program began full scale in 2008 in coordination with major partners including the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA), the Illinois Association of Meat Processors, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and the Illinois Soybean Association. Since its inception, Pork Power has provided over 200,000 pounds of pork to hungry families in Illinois.
The donation process takes the pig from the farm to the family. Pork producers can take donated pigs to cooperating processing facilities where they will be made into 2-pound ground pork packages. The slaughter fee is waived at the processing plant for all donated pigs, and after processing, the meat is distributed to the eight foodbanks in the state through Feeding Illinois. Pork producers then get a form for their donation and a receipt from the Foodbank for tax deduction purposes.
One farmer from central Illinois knows the donation process inside and out. Phil Borgic is a local pork producer and former president of the IPPA who has been a part of the Pork Power program since the beginning. As a member of Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative and a resident of Montgomery County, Borgic’s farm in Nokomis has been a family operation since his parents purchased it in 1955. He and his wife Karen now own the farm and have been in the pork producing business for more than 30 years.
His farm, made up of 275 acres, includes grain bins, environmentally-controlled hog sheds and about 200 acres of corn used for feed. The temperature-controlled facility sees about 80,000 pigs each year with almost 250 piglets born each day.
Borgic has always donated pigs locally, so being an early adopter of the Pork Power program was no surprise. Just within the last year, he has donated 17 pigs for a total donation of about 5,000 pounds of meat. Borgic said he encourages other producers to get on board with the program, but there are not as many producers as there were 10 years ago. As the economy has worsened, many producers have chosen to exit the market.
Borgic has managed to stick with it, and since graduating from the University of Illinois where he studied Agricultural Economics, he has been dedicated to farming in the same way his parents did before him. The aspect of being a pork producer that Borgic most enjoys is the birthing process which brings new life to the farm. It is also the most labor-intensive, but is the most rewarding experience in his opinion.
When it comes time to make a donation, it takes a conscious effort on the behalf of the pork producer. Most issues relate to ensuring health and safety standards when donating pigs. Logistically, it can be difficult to take just a few animals to the packer because of post-transportation – the trailers must be disinfected to ensure sanitation. Producers then cannot re-enter the sheds for the rest of the day because of possible traces of infectious bacteria on shoes and hands picked up at the processing center.
There are some other options, however. Producers can also contribute by donating pigs/sows at marketing locations that will be sent to the nearest participating processor. Or they may donate the cash value of any pigs/sows sold at marketing locations where the money will be sent to IPPA to be used to purchase pork for the fall donation.
The IPPA usually presents the fall donation near the end of the year when all of the money from producers and donations are collected. The IPPA then purchases a large quantity of pork and presents it to Feeding Illinois, who distributes it to the eight state-wide foodbanks. Last year’s donation totaled nearly 45,000 pounds.
As for obstacles for the pork producer in general, it’s certainly no easy job. One of the biggest challenges as a pork producer, Borgic says, is managing the costs, and 60 percent of those costs come from feed for the animals. The pigs’ diet consists largely of corn, and as corn prices become increasingly volatile, the more expensive it is for the producer to feed his/her pigs.
At the end of the day, Borgic knows it’s worth the hard work and obstacles. He’s seen the food move from the farm to the family, and has been to Central Illinois Foodbank several times to see the process come full circle. At the Foodbank, he was impressed by the sheer quantity of food within the warehouse, and the fact that nearly 700,000 pounds are distributed every three to four weeks. “Getting quality protein to these families is so important,” Borgic said. “The Pork Power program participants do whatever they can every day to take care of their animals and make sure there is protein available for families who can’t afford it.”
In his own community, he has seen people and organizations work together to actively battle hunger. Both the need and the number of families seeking aid has increased in the past five years, and members of the community have worked together to fight rural hunger. Within Montgomery County, there are eight agencies working to feed families in coordination with Central Illinois Foodbank.
In your community, there are ways to contribute as well. You can plant an extra row in your garden to donate, create a fundraising challenge among co-workers and friends, or host a food drive. Donations from corporations and associations down to the local community member make all the difference. Hunger exists 365 days a year, and no matter how big or small the contribution, it makes a world of difference to families in need.
Get involved with the Foodbank
- Hold a fundraiser
- Organize a food drive
- Collect non-food items
- Volunteer at a mobile pantry
Contact the Foodbank at 217-522-4022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this Foodbank doesn’t serve your area, locate a local pantry and donate some food.
Kaleigh Friend is the Public Relations Manager at the Central Illinois Foodbank.