Eliza Olson, the manager of the Daybreak shelter kitchen in Joliet, has made it her mission to end hunger. Starting in Joliet, 11 years ago, Olson found it difficult to find volunteers to cook and prepare the food, however she did not let that stop her. Now, what started as a small group of Olson and four volunteers has turned into Olson and 83 volunteers.
They call themselves the Daybreak Angels, and help serve food to those who need it, no questions asked.
Joliet has been classified as a food desert, where many residents live a mile or more away from a full service grocery store. A majority of residents affected by the food desert live on the East Side of Joliet. Since the start of the pandemic there has been an increase in food insecurity in the U.S. In September, the Biden administration announced a multi-billion-dollar plan to improve food systems in the U.S. and abroad.
Olson said around this time of year, the shelter —operated by Catholic Charities in conjunction with Friendship United Methodist Church — houses between 75 to 100 people. Due to the limits and regulations enforced because of the pandemic, the shelter has had fewer people. However, the population of homeless people is increasing.
“The numbers [of homeless people] are raising; this is definitely no joke.” Olson said.
The Biden administration plans to invest more than $10 billion to end hunger, half of which will go towards strengthening the food systems within the U.S. and the other half which will be a part of the five-year commitment to Feed the Future, “the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative,” according to whitehouse.gov.
The administration has said that better food systems are essential in decreasing poverty, helping meet the world’s food needs, and lessening the impact of environmental agriculture. Olson plans to expand her services outside of the shelter’s kitchen. She recently became the owner of a food trailer and plans to serve meals from the truck with the Angels. They also host events selling food to raise money for supplies.
Taylor Petz, 21, a student at St. Francis University is part of the peer ministry and has volunteered at Daybreak Shelter 10 times. She said with COVID-19, people were unable to volunteer, but since the start of the fall semester people are able to come in once again.
The volunteers head to Daybreak around 4:40 a.m. to begin cooking breakfast, Petz said. Before the pandemic they served around 75 to 100 meals and now they serve around 50 to 60 meals.
“We help start off their day right with the most important meal of their day. I think without Daybreak, many of them wouldn’t know when their next meal would be.” Petz said.
Joliet is a part of the Will County Continuum of Care, which helps assist the homeless in finding housing and support systems, according to the city’s 2021 annual action plan.
When it comes to assisting the homeless population and food scarcity, Petz said she would like for officials to see it as more of an important issue in the area and to spread the word about Daybreak.
Collin Gilmer, 20, was a first time volunteer when he first came to the shelter in the fall. He said it would be helpful for the city to build more shelters in the area, in hopes it lessens strain on current shelters.
“Our current system promoted homeless-hostile architecture, and many people will get in trouble for sleeping in or sitting, asking for money in certain places around the city.” Gilmer said regarding aspects the city could approve on in a broader sense.
Gilmer said that the current system punishes people for “being homeless when they deserve to be helped.”
“It takes a very long time to get things done,” Olson said reflecting on the system’s bureaucracy. “So I take it upon myself to use my voice and the people that I know to get them help [with] clothes, food, shoes, blankets whatever it is they need.”
Olson is working on paying off the loan for her food trailer, she is halfway there. She hopes she can prepare young children and teenagers to continue the same help. “I have so many young kids who have cooked at the shelter that want to do what I do.”