Nancy Couch, a member of Our Saviour's since 2007, is vice chair of operations and programs for Loaves & Fishes, which is marking Hunger Action Month in September and Wear Orange Day for hunger awareness on Sept. 23. Nancy and her husband, Jeff, live in Naperville and have three adult sons; Nancy spoke recently with Our Saviour's communications manager Christy LaFave Grace about her work with Loaves & Fishes, the landscape of food insecurity in and around DuPage County, and what being a member of Our Saviour's has meant to her.
You've been a board member at Loaves & Fishes since 2019, but how did you originally become involved in the organization?
That was an Our Saviour’s moment. This goes back to 2009, 2010—Pastor Mark was here, and I was chairman at the time of what we called the Mission Board.
Our Saviour’s has been involved with Loaves & Fishes for a long time, and that summer a member who had been very active with Loaves and involved in the back-to-school project stepped away that summer, and Pastor Mark kind of said, “You’re the chairman of the committee; you have to step forward”—I always tell Pastor Mark that it’s because of him and his gentle urging that I got into this.
So Peter Fink, who was co-chair of the committee with me and has since passed—Peter and I stepped forward, and it was life-changing for me.
What has that looked like for you? How has it been life-changing?
My children have never come home to an entry pantry. They’ve never been hungry. I’ve been very blessed that when I go to the grocery store, while I’m conscious of prices, I can buy it. Being at Loaves and Fishes, you see a lot of people who can’t do that. And they have to make hard decisions between shoes for their children, the rent, putting gasoline in their car and buying groceries. These are people who genuinely need our help. And when you see them week in and week out, you see the same faces, you know the children, you know the couples—you just start to have a heart for their struggles.
We saw that food insecurity decreased nationally in 2021, but this year, with some federal aid ending and with inflation hitting 40-year highs for groceries alone, the landscape has changed. Last month, Feeding America said that most U.S. food banks saw steady or rising demand this summer as costs climbed and donations declined. How is inflation affecting clients and Loaves & Fishes as an organization?
We’re seeing a lot of new families.
Loaves & Fishes in November of 2021 opened our new hub, which is over by Feed My Starving Children in Naperville. At that time, we increased our service area to four counties—DuPage, Kane, Will and Kendall. So we serve a very large geographic area. We’re seeing a very large influx of new clients, especially from the Aurora area, the Kane County area. It’s the combination of everything being more expensive that brings them to us.
Are there stories that have stuck with you over the years? Comments that you’ve heard that make you think, “This is it; this is why we do this”?
It’s nice when a client comes up to us and says, “This is my last time; I have a job.”
That has happened numerous times, and we celebrate with them; we cry with them. We had one client—she was with us a really long time—and she and her husband wrote us a beautiful letter thanking everyone for helping to feed their family. Then they got in a better situation and didn’t need us anymore, and she started a project of collecting children’s books—they brought us hundreds, maybe 1,000 books, and we have them in our warehouse and put them out so that when families come to visit us, the kids can go and take a book. And that’s where we work with the MEGA Garage Sale, because they give us books afterward, which is great.
What might surprise people to learn about Loaves & Fishes?
I think people are always amazed at where our food comes from. Our food comes from really three different sources. We have food that comes from food rescue—that’s food from the grocery stores, and our biggest partner, which I think might be surprising, is Amazon. We go to all of the Amazon Fresh stores and we recover food from them.
Before the pandemic and before prices got so high, 60% of our food came through food recovery. Now, because grocery stores are also watching their inventory, it’s about 40%.
It’s really gone down, so we rely on purchasing food ourselves, which we do, and we also rely on food drives, such as the collection of canned food through Trunk or Treat.
What has being a member of Our Saviour’s meant to you?
It’s my church. It’s my family. Not just my church family—they’re family.
Interested in opportunities to get involved with Loaves & Fishes? Click HERE.