How Wheaton, Glen Ellyn rotary clubs help fill the College of DuPage food pantry

Linda Kozlowski manages the food pantry inside the student resource center on the College of DuPage campus in Glen Ellyn.

Each month, the Fuel Pantry distributes about 3,100 pounds of food. But chances are you didn’t know that.

A food drive spearheaded by the Glen Ellyn and Wheaton Rotary clubs aims to do two things. One, keep the pantry shelves full. And two, bring attention to student food insecurity.

“It constantly needs to be replenished,” Kozlowski said of the pantry, a lifeline to students during the academic year and summer classes.

Rotary volunteers have placed large food donation boxes throughout Glen Ellyn and Wheaton to help meet the demand. Collectively, Rotarians from around DuPage County have raised funds for the pantry.

“Those students truly have a tremendous need,” said Glen Ellyn Rotary Club President Rob Wilkinson, CEO of the B.R. Ryall YMCA, a collection site for nonperishable food and toiletry donations. “There’s a correlation of food insecurity to mental health, and especially when you think about the stresses of being a student.

“Hopefully, this is a huge burden that’s taken off their back.”

How it started

Students in the college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter opened the Fuel Pantry, the result of a 2015 project examining food insecurity on the campus of the state’s largest community college.

The college brought the pantry under its purview just before the pandemic hit. The pantry receives funding from the COD Foundation, gets deliveries from the Northern Illinois Food Bank and sees up to about 400 shopping visits every month.

“To maintain that, that’s where the Rotary really is helping out because that’s a lot of food,” Kozlowski said.

Donation boxes are in the Wheaton Public Library and Liz Mager’s downtown Glen Ellyn business, Chocolaterie Stam.

“Mostly, it’s an awareness not to forget about the college students who are trying to support themselves and better themselves. But it’s hard. It’s a struggle for them,” Mager said.

The pantry supports students who need help from time to time making ends meet because of an unexpected financial hardship: a car repair bill, rent increase or job loss.

“We always say we’re here for you for as long as you need to come in,” Kozlowski said.

She also works with a designated liaison for students experiencing homelessness.

The Fuel Pantry on the campus of the College of DuPage is open 20 hours during the week.
Courtesy of the COD Fuel Pantry

“We have some clients we see every single week all through the semester,” Kozlowski said.

Easing stigma is a challenge for any food pantry, especially one next to the campus bookstore. Kozlowski visits classes and talks to any group she can about the pantry.

She sees herself in the students she’s trying to help.

Kozlowski went to a community college and lived in a food-insecure household. She then earned her business degree from Northern Illinois University and built a career in corporate America.

After the pandemic stuck, she was looking for some way to make a difference. Kozlowski started volunteering for a Wheaton food pantry and realized “this is what I have to do.”

Glen Ellyn and Wheaton Rotarians are collecting donations for the on-campus food pantry at the College of DuPage.
Courtesy of Paul Keenon

Kozlowski was hired as the Fuel Pantry adviser in January 2023. She tells students to think of the pantry like any other campus resource.

“It’s just part of going to COD,” she said. “We’re invested in all areas of your life and making sure you’re successful.”

The joy of giving back’

Betsy Adamowski, the Wheaton Public Library director, discovered the Fuel Pantry by accident after reading an article about colleges and universities creating food pantries on their campuses. At the time, the Fuel Pantry was run by the Phi Theta Kappa chapter.

When Adamowski and fellow Rotarian Erica Loiacono interviewed the students who were running the pantry, they also learned they were coming to the end of their initial $10,000 in startup funding. Adamowski and Loiacono felt strongly that the college should have a thriving food pantry and asked the students to write a business plan and grant proposal to the rotary.

Glen Ellyn Rotary members met with Rotary International President Gordon McInally at the Abbington in Glen Ellyn, a kickoff event for the Fuel Pantry food drive. Many businesses and organizations left with collection boxes to launch the service project.
Courtesy of Paul Keenon

Adamowski visited other Rotary clubs and made pleas for funding. That campaign raised another $10,000 to keep the Fuel Pantry in operation. Donations, Adamowski said, came in from the Wheaton Rotary Noon Club as well as the Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst, Downers Grove, Bloomingdale-Roselle and Carol Stream clubs. A Rotarian also made a personal donation. A check was presented to the college in October 2022.

The joint Rotary service project allows the pantry to provide variety. Cereal, oatmeal, canned soups, fruits and vegetables, pasta and sauce are among the most in-demand items.

“The impact that all of us, together, are making to help local students succeed is awe-inspiring,” Adamowski said in a statement. “I hope one day of those students becomes a Rotarian and can experience the joy of giving back to their community with a project such as this one.”

— On average, the pantry distributes 3,400 pounds of items per month. That includes 200 pounds of produce a month.

— The size of the pantry is roughly 210-220 square feet. It also has a small stock room.

— Food pantries use a standard value of $1.92 for items they distribute. Generally, the COD pantry provides clients with about $6,500 in food each month. Tax deductible cash donations can be made through the COD Foundation.

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