On the Record

Filling a need

On the Record with Deborah Booth

Barb Food Mart Development Director Deborah Booth poses for a photo in the food pantry Thursday, Oct. 25, before she volunteered to help distribute food to needy families with children in DeKalb School District 428.
Barb Food Mart Development Director Deborah Booth poses for a photo in the food pantry Thursday, Oct. 25, before she volunteered to help distribute food to needy families with children in DeKalb School District 428.

DeKALB – After retiring from Northern Illinois University four years ago, Deborah Booth looked for ways to help out in the community.

About three years ago, Booth started volunteering with Barb Food Mart. She soon learned that about one-fifth of DeKalb School District 428 students are considered food insecure. Last year, more than 60 percent of DeKalb students qualified to receive free or reduced price lunches.

Barb Food Mart is a food pantry for families with children enrolled in District 428 schools. The pantry is open from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursdays at Huntley Middle School, 1515 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb. The pantry serves between 65 and 80 families a week.

On Sunday, Barb Food Mart will host a free documentary film screening and panel discussion with a Q&A at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St. in DeKalb.

The award-winning short film, “Think Globally – Eat Locally,” was directed by DeKalb filmmaker Laura Vazquez. The 30-minute documentary was filmed in DeKalb County in 2016 and focuses on better ways to use the land, alleviate hunger, preserve the soil, and strengthen the community. Interviews include local farmers and food, health and land use experts.

After the film, a panel discussion and Q&A will feature Laura Vazquez, NIU faculty member in communication studies and Board of Trustees professor; Dan Kenney, founder and executive director of DeKalb County Community Gardens; Lisa Cumings, community wellness coordinator for Northwestern Medicine in DeKalb; and Denise Curran, homeless liaison for DeKalb County.

Booth, the development director for Barb Food Mart, met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Barb Food Mart and the upcoming film event.

Milton: What is Barb Food Mart?

Booth: Barb Food Mart is a food pantry that serves families in DeKalb School District 428. To use the food mart, you must get verification from the school secretary that you are a parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the district. It is open from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursdays at Huntley Middle School year-round, except on school holidays.

Milton: How did Barb Food Mart start?

Booth: Barb Food Mart was co-founded five and half years ago by Sheryl Nakonechny and a fellow DeKalb teacher who saw that there were hungry children in their classrooms. Many of the volunteers at the pantry are current and retired teachers. Many teachers donate a portion of their salaries each month to Barb Food Mart.

Milton: What is your role at Barb Food Mart?

Booth: I volunteer at the food mart weekly and also focus on fundraising through grants and private donations. When Sheryl Nakonechny retired in March, her job was divided between several volunteers. There’s a lot of organization and hard work to a food pantry. I don’t think any of us realized just how much she did.

Milton: What is the topic of the documentary “Think Globally – Eat Locally”?

Booth: It focuses on the benefits of locally grown food, for both the health of people and the land. Local farmers and land use experts are interviewed. It’s exciting that we are showing this important film for the first time in DeKalb.

Milton: Tell me more about the panel after the film.

Booth: After the film, each panelist will speak for five to 10 minutes and then we will open up for a Q&A session. Two of the panelists appeared in the film, Lisa Cumings and Dan Kenney, and the film director, Laura Vazquez, is also on the panel.

Milton: Why host the documentary event?

Booth: We want to increase awareness of issues that I think for many people are hiding in plain sight. I don’t think most people know how many children in our school system are food insecure. I think it’s a big problem, and I don’t think people know it’s as widespread as it is.

Milton: Why are events like this important?

Booth: There are at least seven food pantries in the DeKalb/Sycamore area. I hope that the event increases awareness of the community’s need. It’s also a way to share information about what people can do to help. One way is to donate to local food pantries all year round, but especially as we approach the holidays. Giving Tuesday is on Nov. 27. After Thanksgiving, there’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday and then Giving Tuesday. It’s one way to donate and help those in need.

Milton: Why is this screening event unique?

Booth: The documentary has never been shown in DeKalb. It has been shown at festivals and won many awards, but there hasn’t been a viewing in DeKalb. The film is short, only 30 minutes, and can also be watched on Vimeo.

Milton: What is the goal of the documentary and the event?

Booth: We hope to raise awareness of many issues at the event. Raising and buying food from local producers, establishing food hubs, increasing food security in our schools and community. All this will help alleviate hunger and poverty in our own community. It’s a call to action.

Milton: Are volunteers needed for Barb Food Mart?

Booth: Yes, we’re always looking for volunteers. People can volunteer Thursday mornings to help unload the truck and shelve items or Thursday afternoons to staff the pantry while open. Those interested in volunteering or who want more information about Barb Food Mart, can contact us at barbfoodmart@D428.org.

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