Charitable giving remains strong in McHenry County, but demand for help has grown

Food pantries and other nonprofits say need is surging again to pandemic levels

Crystal Lake Food Pantry volunteers Heather Marts and Joanna Bradshaw gather food for a client order.

The United Way of Greater McHenry County was feeling thankful on Giving Tuesday, President Jamie Maravich said.

“Every donation we get is a success,” Maravich said, adding donations have been “pretty consistent” with no wide swings up or down.

The McHenry-based umbrella organization has 31 nonprofit partner agencies in the county, all of which reached out to their individual donor bases via email blasts and social media posts to remind them of the Tuesday “holiday” that caps off the long, post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

“True to form, the McHenry County community is stepping up and supporting those in need,” Maravich said.

According to the United Way of Greater McHenry County 2022 annual report, the nonprofit brought in almost $150,000 less than its 2021 revenue. The organization gave out almost $1 million from donations and grants last year, Maravich said.

Nationally, charitable donations decreased in 2022 – a dip that only has happened four times in 40 years, according to a Giving USA report.

Total giving dropped 3.4% in 2022 to $499.3 billion in current dollars, a drop of 10.5% when adjusted for inflation, The Associated Press reported.

According to the Giving USA report, 64% of donations in 2022 came from individual donors, 21% from foundations, 9% from bequests – generally through a will or estate plan – and 6% from corporations.

The drop came after two record-setting years for charitable giving, driven by the unprecedented needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Giving USA report’s lead researcher. It’s a sign of continued generosity, although there are some areas of concern.

In McHenry County, many nonprofit representatives said their contribution levels have remained fairly steady in recent years, but what has changed, in many cases, is the increased need for the services these organizations provide.

One of the biggest needs Maravich sees in McHenry County comes from the multiple food pantries with which United Way partners.

“The demand has increased,” Maravich said. “From reports through our partners, the pantry usage across the county is up 25% year over year.”

She noted how helpful the Ride United Last Mile Delivery service has been this year. Through a partnership with DoorDash, the member pantries can have groceries from their locations delivered directly to those in need for free.

Crystal Lake Food Pantry President Paul Georgy said he also is seeing increased demand for food. Last year, the pantry would serve about 750 families each month. Now, the pantry is helping about 1,200 families.

“That’s the thing that concerns me,” he said. “You know you’re doing a good job with putting food on people’s tables, but when does this growth stop?”

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry saw a huge spike in donations of food and money during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgy said. Although the pantry still is getting plenty of food, the food is going faster and, overall, the pantry has received less to offset the demand this year compared with 2020.

Despite a bit of a slowdown, the pantry has seen many people step up to organize their own food drives, whether they’re from smaller organizations or local businesses, Georgy said.

“It’s overwhelming when I think about it,” he said.

The pantry is in the midst of its “community harvest” drive. Canned vegetables; ramen noodles; and paper products such as toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are the top items needed, Georgy said.

Crystal Lake Food Pantry volunteers Heather Marts and Joanna Bradshaw gather food for a client order.

The pantry also takes monetary donations so it can purchase food from the Northern Illinois Food Bank at a price about eight times cheaper than retail prices.

However, Georgy said he finds that the community feels a greater connection when people donate food.

“It’s about the feeling,” he said. “You feel like you’ve done more than just throwing a check into a pot.”

Similarly, Carpentersville-based D300 Food Bank, which serves the School District 300 community but is independent, earlier this month saw its biggest turnout of people in need of food in its seven-year history, said Chuck Bumbales, a food bank board member and volunteer facilities manager.

D300 also works with the Northern Illinois Food Bank to help secure food donations. As for financial contributions, “we’ve held our own. Our large donors have stayed with us. ... And the five-, 10- and 20-dollar donations add up over time,” Bumbales said. “They really do. We’ve been very fortunate.”

A client picks out nonperishables at the District 300 Food Pantry.

At the same time, he said, demand recently has been “surging again” to levels that occurred during a “big uptick” amid the pandemic. On Wednesday evening, during the pantry’s weekly hours, a line stretched out the door.

At the Community Foundation for McHenry County, Executive Director Amy Hernon references 2020 when comparing donations with previous years.

That year, she said, saw “a huge spike, obviously because of COVID. It was an anomaly, and it doesn’t really represent giving and generosity.”

Compared with the past five years, donations have remained steady, Hernon said.

The Community Foundation, based in Crystal Lake, supports charitable organizations across the county and was able to donate more than $600,000 to 39 nonprofits last year.

Hernon said the holiday season sparks gratitude, which inspires generosity. Although it may not be captured in data, she said, she sees little acts of kindness that have a ripple effect, such as paying it forward at the coffee shop or rounding up a purchase to help a nonprofit.

“Those are the things that I think we can do that I think some of the stats don’t capture, when someone grabs that extra mitten for the tree or throws that $20 in the kettle,” she said. “We’re a generous county, and we have a generous spirit.”

How to help

The Associated Press contributed to this story.