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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

DeKalb Church Brings Back Free Monthly Dinners

First United Methodist Church of DeKalb

A northern Illinois church is bringing back its free monthly Sunday dinners after they were interrupted by the pandemic.  

Vicki Boone is a volunteer at First United Methodist Church of DeKalb. She said the "R.E.A.L meal sharing food and friendship" program is bigger than a handout.  

“It stands for -- I think what we hope all churches would be at their best -- relevant, engaging, authentic and loving,” she explained.

Boone emphasized that this is at the heart of what the establishment does.  

The monthly meals started in 2014. The community originally took part in the family style dinners in person. That ended with the pandemic, but last fall, the meals became available via drive-thru. The program stopped again in October due to the uptick in COVID-19 numbers. 

First United Methodist Church originally began feeding the community in 2012 during its summer lunch program.

“And after doing that, for two seasons," Boone said, "we really stepped back and said, you know, ‘So what happens to all these kids and families that we serve all summer, during the rest of the year?’” 

She said that a former associate, Pastor Kim Chapman, came up with the idea for the monthly dinners.

Boone also added that they are able to fulfill this mission with the help of organizations like the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Schnuck’s grocery store, and a number of volunteers.

These monthly drive-thru dinners start again on March 28 from 5:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., or until the food is gone. Easter ham is on the menu that day. On April 25, pork carnitas will be served. Pick-ups take place in the alley behind the church. 

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.