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Perspective: To love your neighbor, know your neighbor

Susan Stephens

I asked my friend at lunch, “How many food pantries do you think are in DeKalb County?”


He said, “I’ll say two? Three? But you’re gonna to tell me different.”


“At least 20,” I said. “At least.”


He stopped mid-bite of his BLT, “Whoa.”


I just discovered the number while working with a local food distribution organization. The number of pantry sites surprised us because it reminds us that DeKalb County is generous. It’s also surprising because, sadly, it shows that we have many neighbors struggling with food insecurity. Over 30% of our county has trouble affording basics–due to poverty and under-employment.


Through the organization I work with, DeKalb County Community Gardens, I’ve been surveying pantry clients from Genoa to Sandwich. It’s a good exercise, as poverty can become numbers & caricatures; our neighbors’ faces get lost.


The data we collected? How often do you visit? What basics are you in need of? What other services could you use?


But clients also comment about their experiences, saying things like:


“The pantry provides important necessities, like eggs.”


“This helps my family.”


One senior said: “The volunteers don’t need to do this but they do, and I appreciate it.”


One stunned woman: “It’s my first time having to do this; I’m a nurse.”


Another: “I don't feel dirty when I come here.”


And: “[The volunteers] make me feel like a human being– compassion, kindness, a smile.”


The comments get at the humans behind the data. Someone wiser than I said, before we can love our neighbors, we have to see our neighbors. It can only help.


I’m Kyle White, and that’s my Perspective.

Kyle White is an author and illustrator who lives in Sycamore, Illinois. He works with the not-for-profit DeKalb County Community Gardens.