Eastern Illinois Foodbank was formed as part of a major regional effort to develop an emergency food network in central Illinois. In 1980, a group of 20 local citizens met in Urbana to form a food distribution network that eventually became three independent foodbanks: Central Illinois Foodbank in Springfield, Peoria Area Foodbank, and Eastern Illinois Foodbank. In May 1983, Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF) was incorporated, and the following month the foodbank opened its doors in downtown Champaign.
When former Foodbank board chair Vern Fein was asked to join the meeting in 1980, he originally declined, but had a change of heart when he came across a magazine in his office. “I read that the Detroit Foodbank had recovered 9,000 pounds of frozen butter beans that were spilled on a railroad track due to a collision, and quickly distributed them to those in need. I changed my mind at once and plunged into helping start the foodbank.”
In June of 1983, EIF opened its doors in downtown Champaign, in the building formerly occupied by Sears. During its first year, the new EIF warehouse distributed about 30,000 pounds of food. Initially, just a few food donors gave nearly all the product that the Foodbank distributed—and there was very little community-wide effort to help the fledgling organization stock its shelves.
All that changed in 1984, when members of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana piloted the first Food for Families drive. In its inaugural year, the drive raised an overwhelming 84,000 pounds of food and marked the first major effort to gain grassroots community support for the Foodbank. The Junior League would continue to operate Food for Families on behalf of the Foodbank for more than a decade, working with key media partners and other supporters to grow the drive bigger and bigger each year. Food for Families is now the largest combined food and fund drive in the region.
Since then, support from the community has grown every year. Today, EIF is the largest hunger relief organization in 18 counties in eastern Illinois, serving more than one million neighbors each year through a network of 170 partner agencies throughout an 18-county service area. The Foodbank recently completed a capital campaign that allows them to expand into a warehouse adjoined to the original facility, enabling them to increase efficiency, accommodate more nutritious and fresh product, and extend the number of people they serve.