Feed My Neighbor - Great Lent 2022
If you would like to help or make a donation towards one of the meals,
contact the church office and a member of the Feed My Neighbor
committee will reach out to you.
Feed My Neighbor
The Feed My Neighbor program, part of the Outreach Ministry of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Des Plaines, Illinois, is central to the parish’s response to Christ’s call to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty in Matthew 25. Since the church was founded in 1959, the stewards have used the resources and expertise of the Greek community—namely the many parishioners who work and/or own businesses in the food service industry—to answer this call. From early on, the parish was a generous donor to charities in Des Plaines. Currently, St. John the Baptist is the largest single donor to the Des Plaines Self Help Closet and Food Pantry and well known in the community for our Feed My Neighbor program, as well as supporting and collaborating with local charities and churches to provide food for those in need.
Des Plaines is a suburb with unique needs and opportunities. Des Plaines has a large immigrant population, many living in densely populated housing just east of St. John the Baptist. The community has a growing Hispanic/Latino and Asian population. One in ten children live in poverty in the city. At 17%, Des Plaines has a higher-than-average population of older adults. Fourteen percent of the population experiences food insecurity. And homelessness is an area of concern for the community, though exact numbers are unknown because of the transient nature of the population. (Statistics from the Community Health Needs Assessment, Presence, 2013).
St. John the Baptist has parishioners from throughout Des Plaines, as well as from the surrounding city neighborhoods and suburbs. Like the population in the area, at any time there are parishioners experiencing food insecurity who reach out to St. John the Baptist for assistance with food, and this need has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Others are older adults who have difficulty shopping and cooking for themselves. Furthermore, as the largest Orthodox church in the area with a reputation for philanthropic activities, local Greek American and Orthodox Christians also reach out for support. St. John the Baptist coordinates support for those in need of food assistance through the Feed My Neighbor program of the Outreach Ministry. This ministry brings together the various ministries of the church to work together to feed those in need within the parish, Greek Americans and Orthodox Christians, and the local community at large. No one who seeks assistance with a meal is turned away.
The Feed My Neighbor program began in 2003 with the first ever Thanksgiving Day event. Held annually since then, the program has grown to serve as many as 650 delicious Thanksgiving turkey meals in-house, with another 150 meals taken to go, and 50 delivered to those who are homebound. Guests receive the warm Greek hospitality of 150 volunteers from the parish, as well as other Greek and pan-Orthodox churches. Guests are also sent home with a bag of groceries and a winter coat. The event has become a highlight in the parish year and the local community, advertised throughout Des Plaines and Maine Township and local Orthodox churches. St. John the Baptist assisted another Greek Orthodox church with replicating the program in their community.
Since the first Thanksgiving Day event, St. John the Baptist has added a New Year’s Day event that serves 250 meals annually in honor of the philanthropy of St. Basil. In addition, St. John the Baptist sponsors hundreds of meals each year by partnering with the Des Plaines churches that take turns providing a meal Monday through Thursday nights in the city. In an effort to fill the need for meals in the Des Plaines area on Fridays, in 2021, Feed My Neighbor expanded the program to offer meals on Friday evenings. Currently the program offers meals during the three Lenten periods throughout the year.
In total, the Feed My Neighbor program serves well over a thousand meals annually to those in need from the parish, the Greek American and Orthodox community, and any one in need of a prepared meal served with love. Hundreds of volunteers, from a child putting together a bagged lunch to an older adult delivering a meal to a homebound parishioner, make the program possible and have the privilege of being the hands of Christ to those who are hungry and thirsty.
The Covid-19 pandemic presented unique challenges to the Feed My Neighbor program. Covid-19 safety protocols prohibited offering meals in-house in 2020 and 2021. However, the demand for meals and food in the community greatly increased. The Des Plaines Self Help Closet and Food Pantry experienced a 60% increase in clients. The Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day events were modified during the pandemic to take out meals. The Feed My Neighbor program has greater demand than ever, and now thanks to the generous support of the Hellenic Foundation, in addition to the ongoing support from the parish and supports, we will be able to address this demand and provide many more meals in the upcoming year.