Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Lois Miller, librarian at Jefferson Elementary School, has a huge family. In addition to her immediate family, there are the 40 or so others with whom she volunteers at Barb Food Mart.
And then there are all the children she helps pick out books every day. To her, they’re the future. And that future is fueled by good, reliable, abundant food.
“If you want to have your dollars make an impact for Give DeKalb County, giving to the Barb Food Mart is a great way to do it,” Lois says. “We’re touching the lives of the future of our country by feeding the children and helping them to get a good education.”
She’s been volunteering at Barb Food Mart since the fall of 2019. You’ll find her at Huntley Middle School as dozens of cars line up from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every Thursday.
Pantry Director Joey Moore says when families in need arrive, they’re met by volunteers who are smiling and eager to make what can be a tough situation feel lighter.
“I feel really humbled that we have so many volunteers that show up, and so many families that put trust in us,” Joey says. “It’s hard to ask for help. When people show up, especially for the first time, it must have been hard to come here.” Suddenly, her voice brightens. “Our volunteers are awesome because they are joyful,” she says.
She says volunteers come from all walks of life, from retirees to an influx of teenagers fulfilling community service hours after school. “It’s been really exciting to welcome some new volunteers from different backgrounds,” Joey says. “It’s fun to watch all those different people from the community come together and do this big thing.”
“We’re a little family,” Lois says. “There’s an investment and an eagerness to see each other. We feel as thought we are part of a team, and we enjoy playing just a little part in the big picture of getting food to families.”
When the pandemic hit, volunteers bravely faced fear and uncertainty to deliver for families. “Every week, we were just adapting more and more to meet families’ needs in a COVID-safe way,” Lois says.
And boy, is the Food Mart adaptive. Each week, families are asked what exactly they need - whether it’s fresh produce or diapers. In one week, nearly half of their 110 online orders included a special request that the Food Mart was able to fulfill.
“We’re a more than food pantry,” Joey says. She adds that during the pandemic, the pantry accommodates families by allowing one person to pick up for multiple families.
“It really isn’t just about the food,” she says. “It’s about strengthening the community, whether it’s through food or the experience at the food pantry.”
Families then bring that experience home. A smile spreads across Lois’ face as she shares one of her favorite recent innovations at the pantry, birthday bags filled with cake mixes, frosting, candles, plates and balloons, so that children can have a proper party.
“The birthday bags offer something that are probably extras for a family thats having a hard time putting food on the table.” Lois says.
She adds that the pantry goes above and beyond by educating its families on how to use ingredients, in particular how to cook and use produce, some of which might not be regular fare in a family’s culture.
That’s crucial because the Food Mart recently partnered with Klein’s Farm and Market in Elgin, to bring the freshest produce around to the pantry and, in turn, to families’ tables. So in May, as you’re figuring out where to donate your money for Give DeKalb County, bear in mind the Barb Food Mart will be receiving fresh asparagus, to kick off 20 weeks of nutrient-rich, right-off-the-truck good eats. “It’s the highest-quality produce,” Joey says, a smile spreading across her face and her eyes shimmering. “It’ll be picked on Wednesday, delivered to us on Thursday and in families’ homes by Friday.”