Updated: Jun 14
Guest post by Matthew Hausman, Executive Director of Feeding Our Kids
If there has been any silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been the outpouring of support that Americans have shown to those in need. In 2020, Americans gave a record $471 billion to charity, an increase of 5% over the previous year (4% when adjusted for inflation).
Americans also donate an even more precious resource, their time. In 2018, Americans volunteered almost 7 billion hours.
This investment of time and money has a tremendous impact on the local community, reaping both short-term and long-term gains for all of us. Whatever cause or interest may be close to your heart, there is likely an organization working to make a difference in that field. And all these groups could use your support in one way or another.
Nonprofit organizations and community programs do as much as possible (and they do an incredible amount) with extremely limited resources. While they may qualify for government funding and have some staff, it is the support from donors and volunteers that allows these organizations to have a far greater impact than they ever could otherwise.
How Feeding Our Kids Creates an Impact
In the case of Feeding Our Kids, where I serve as Executive Director, we are currently serving weekend food bags to about 1,000 children at almost 40 schools and programs across Champaign Country in a given week. We do not receive any government funds to do this, and our entire staff consists of only 3 part-time paid positions, along with 3 part-time unpaid student interns. There is no way we could feed so many children in so many places without the more than 300 volunteers that unload delivery trucks, pack the food bags, and take the food bags to the schools (and this does not include the heroic school and program social workers that identify the children and get the food to them each week); or the more than 200 donors that allow us to purchase over 50,000 pounds of food. It is a cliché to tell volunteers and donors that we could not do it without them, but it is a cliché because it is absolutely true.
Food insecurity contributes to poor academic performance which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. By alleviating that barrier of food insecurity, we are supporting their future development, hopefully breaking out of that cycle and contributing to long-term benefit for them and the community at large.
Thanks to the support of these generous people, we are able to help children worry less about being hungry, and instead, they can focus on being students. Food insecurity contributes to poor academic performance which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. By alleviating that barrier of food insecurity, we are supporting their future development, hopefully breaking out of that cycle and contributing to long-term benefit for them and the community at large. All thanks to the giving spirit of local donors and volunteers.
One of our donors encapsulated that spirit when responding to our yearly survey this spring: “I want the children to know their community loves and supports them even though we have never met.”
“I want the children to know their community loves and supports them even though we have never met.” - Feeding Our Kids Donor
Local Organizations All Around You Make a Difference
Outside of Feeding Our Kids, I am fortunate to be able to be involved in other organizations as well, and these have given me insight into the impact that other local groups have in our community.
Local groups, just like us, depend on the generous donations of time and money from our neighbors.
Just in the span of a few recent days, I was reminded of how much these gifts improve our community.
I took advantage of a recent beautiful fall day to enjoy some of our local natural resources and visited the Lake of the Woods and River Bend Forest Preserves. While the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and other local park districts, are mostly funded by tax dollars and have paid staff, those resources only go so far. Volunteers are critical to help with a variety of activities such as serving as guides, helping with displays, maintaining trails and gardens, and removing invasives, among many others. Since tax dollars are primarily used for standard operations, many projects and improvements are financially supported by donations. In fact, the covered bridge at Lake of the Woods, a local landmark, needs a new roof soon and fundraising efforts are just beginning.
A few days after my afternoon spent in nature, I was at a meeting where I listened to a presentation from a group called Hospice Hearts, which takes in animals from people who are no longer able to care for their pets due to their own health concerns. During the presentation, a touching story was told about a woman who was entering hospice and extremely worried about what would eventually happen to her dogs. She called the organization every day to check on her pups. When she eventually learned that her fur babies had found a loving home, her last worldly concern had been addressed. This amazing group, which is completely volunteer-based, were able to give this woman peace of mind in her final days and give her dogs a wonderful new home.
Only a few hours after hearing that story, I was in a different meeting and heard another testimonial about the incredible impact that dedicated people can have on our community. Representatives from the Champaign County Community Coalition and the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club shared a recent news story of a local young man who had started his own business and was now striving to be an example to many of the local youth he knows. Only a few years ago, while a teen, this inspiring young man was on a vastly different path. The amazing staff and volunteers involved in these youth outreach efforts helped to mentor him and turn a potential statistic into a success story. There are many similar organizations in the community that need donations, and even more importantly, volunteers and mentors, to help create even more of these success stories.
These are but a few of the ways that you can help to improve our community by sharing your time and treasure.
Not that you needed any more of a reason, but there are returns on investment for the giver as well. Donating and volunteering can help to lower blood pressure, increase self-esteem, and relieve stress, among other health benefits.
Commit to Making a Difference
While the past couple of years have proven to be extremely difficult, it has also given us the opportunity to reflect on what is important and how we can help one another and our community. And the greatest part about giving is that whatever your interests, there are so many opportunities and ways to do so.
I encourage you to find an opportunity to make a difference. Get started below.
Use United Way of Champaign County to connected with different organizations in the community. Look for one (or more) opportunities that speak to your heart.
If you are retired and looking for a supportive group that can introduce you to various organizations that could use your help, check out the local Retired & Senior Volunteer Program.
Time and money are extremely limited and precious resources. We should make sure that how we spend and invest them provides as high a return on investment as possible. When you see how your gift has improved the local community, helped a neighbor in need, or touched a life for the better, what can be more valuable than the knowledge that you made a difference?
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About the Author
Champaign County native Matthew Hausman has served as Executive Director of Feeding Our Kids for the past two and a half years. He also serves as a member of the Champaign County Mental Health Board and the Champaign County Forest Preserve Friends Foundation Board and is an active member of Champaign West Rotary. Prior to moving back to Champaign County, he studied Nonprofit Management via UCLA Extension and spent a year and a half traveling the world, working with more than a dozen volunteer programs.
Feeding Our Kids was founded in 2013 by two local mothers, Ann Kirkland and Jenelle Thompson-Keene, to help support some of their children’s schoolmates. The organization provides nutritious weekend food bags to children suffering from food insecurity at home. After initially serving 18 children in 2 schools, the organization has since grown to support more than 1000 children in more than 40 different schools and youth programs across Champaign County.