Bloomington, Illinois,
20:00 PM

Boxes of Hope and Mini Marshmallows

Not So Ordinary Bank Creates Priceless Impact

Like most adults, Jeni Hanson is always on the move. The single mom has children to care for, meals to cook, schedules to organize, finances to manage, and weekly shopping to do. Speaking of shopping…as a mother of two growing boys, she’s a regular at the grocery store. “I like staying busy,” she smiled. “And my boys, they can eat!”

On top of it all, Jeni manages to volunteer weekly at a local food bank. “I love being here,” she smiled. “It gives me purpose.”

Jeni transports donated items for sorting and distribution

From its sky-high shelves stocked with breads, grains and beans, to coolers of milk, cheese and juice, some might say this place, called Midwest Food Bank looks like a mega supermarket.

But the food here is donated. There are no cashiers and checkout aisles. Instead, you’ll find volunteers. Lots of them.

Each week they give their time and talent to help people in need. They sort and distribute donations. They laugh and form friendships.

“I love organizing the shipments of food we receive,” Jeni smiled. “Semi-trucks deliver the items and each box is a mystery. Opening them is like unwrapping a gift!”

While these boxes don’t come in pretty paper or fancy bows, it’s the items inside that make eyes light up and lift spirits.

“This food does more than prevent hunger. It lets people know they’ll be okay,” said Jeni. “It lets them know others care and are there to help.”

Sometimes the boxes contain rice, or grapes, or lettuce. Sometimes they’re filled with medicine or shoes. And once in while…they contain something a little sweeter.

Donations of grapes

“Once, we received bags of mini-marshmallows…like the kind you find in kids’ cereal,” Jeni explained. “And while we can’t just give mini-marshmallows to those in need, we can combine them with other items – like veggies, fruit, and yogurt for more balanced meals. We’re grateful for what we get.”

Bill Curtis, a longtime Midwest Food Bank volunteer agrees. “It amazes me how many hungry people are out there. When you work here…you know you’re making a difference. We even started a food bank in Kenya to help communities near and far.”

But beyond the food and fellowship found within these walls, Jeni says you’ll find something else too.


Most feel it the moment they walk through the doors.

“You see hope in the faces of children and families who come here for assistance,” Jeni explained. “You see it radiate from our volunteers – in their energy and enthusiasm.”

Jeni Hanson and Mike Meece pictured outside Midwest Food Bank in Bloomington, Illinois

Jeni herself understands the impact of hope and a helping hand. Six years ago she fell on hard times, in need of both food and shelter for her family.

With the assistance of not-for-profit organizations and charities (many of which receive supplies from Midwest Food Bank), Jeni managed to rebuild her life. She regained independence and started a new chapter for herself and her sons.

“Those were incredibly tough times,” she said softly. “But we didn’t give up. We survived because help was there, and I am so grateful.”

Midwest Food Bank volunteer, Jeni Hanson

Today, Jeni continues to pay it forward at Midwest Food Bank because she knows, through help and hope…comes healing. “Now that my boys are old enough, I bring them to volunteer and they love it,” she smiled. “It’s our turn to give back.”

And, through the support of businesses like State Farm – Midwest Food Bank will continue to nourish neighbors near and far.

STORY UPDATE: Effective January 2018, Jeni is now the Operations Manager at Midwest Food Bank. She says hope comes in many forms. Sometimes it's a smile. Or a box of mini-marshmallows. Or a new pair of shoes. But no matter the way in which it's received, care and love are the end result. 

"Creating good in this priceless," said Jeni. 

To find volunteer opportunities in your community, visit®.

(This story was first published November 2016)

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