“Drive thru” food bank a blessing all year long

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It's known for conservation events and Bald Eagle Days, but the Quad City Expo Center turns into a "drive thru" food bank for two hours every month, and this year, distributed close to $650,000 worth of food to help feed the area hungry.

It started when Gene Smith, a retired advertising guy and former WQAD-TV salesman, decided to find a mission during his newfound freedom.

He had heard about Midwest Food Bank in Peoria, a faith-based, non-profit that partnered with corporations and individuals to fill warehouses with food for those in need.

Smith started small, driving his own truck with a trailer every month to  pick up food for needy Quad Citians.

"I started off with a pick up and about 8 pallets a month. Now, we're getting a semi every month. Delivered," Smith said.

His passion caught on.

Once a month, Quad City volunteers, many retirees and Rock Island Rotarians,  wait for the semi-truck load filled with dry goods and paper products, in a "drive through" set up.

Local food pantries, churches, and shelters, who feed the hungry,  34 in all, drive their trucks and vans into the Quad City Expo Center empty, and exit packed with food and drink.

It's a well-oiled and efficient set-up, with volunteers waiting at "stations" to fill up the vehicles in an assembly- line strategy., while the recipients remain in their vehicles.

"It's just like I tell 'em.  In the bible when God took the two fish and five biscuits and multiplied and fed thousands. This is what this means to me," said Dorothy Cotton, a representative of Second Baptist Church in Rock Island.

Pastor Jim of Timothy's House of Hope, agrees.

"We depend on organizations like this to help us out. It saves us a lot of money,  we feed a lot of homeless people on the streets," he said from his red pickup, while making the food circuit from pallet to pallet.

The Peoria division of Midwest Food Bank distributes to Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky out of its warehouse.

"We give out food for free to our partnering agencies, so out of our Peoria location we serve over 300 agencies," said Monica Scheuer, with Midwest Food Bank.

There are six other warehouses,  a network that started out of a family's barn in Bloomington.

"Today there's over 13,000 volunteers handing out over a million dollars worth of food every  month. All of the key leaders and higher staff at the food bank are volunteers. They're business people who have come and said we can use these talents in our life to help to give to those that are in trouble," said co-founder Larry Herman, who was on hand at the Rock Island warehouse for today's distribution.

Midwest Food Bank has courted corporate sponsors like Kroger and Ameren Illinois, and relies donations and volunteers.

"This is how America used to be, we used to be this great loving community. We still are. Look at all these people here today. They're volunteering their time. It gives them a sense of peace. It gives them a sense of purpose," Herman said.

Volunteers at the monthly distribution include a retired police officer, a retired head of the Parks Department, and everyone in between.

For Smith, it's made his retirement great again.

"It fills my heart every time we come into this building and pass out food," he said.